GC Survey Says: Among Law Firms, The Bar Remains Low for Key Client Service Differentiation

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If differentiation is the goal of a marketing department, understanding the client may be the best place to focus efforts.

"Why?" is a valid question. The answer is the foundation of successful business development programs in today’s most profitable law firms, and an area for legal marketers to add value to their law firms.

As legal marketers, we coach attorneys daily in adding value. Client feedback is one method to gain an understanding of how a particular client individually defines value, which may include why the client chooses a particular firm for a matter and how a firm fits within the client’s preferred stable of firms. While in the client interview, the value conversation can lead to very specific needs of the client, which, when implemented, can cement the relationship and institutionalize a client overnight.

When asked about value beyond the billable hour, many in-house counsel just stare and say, “Good question … I am not sure.”

However, understanding value and providing value beyond the billable hour remains elusive. When asked about value beyond the billable hour, many in-house counsel just stare and say, “Good question … I am not sure.” 

For the session on Client Interview 2.0 at the 2017 LMA Annual Conference, we conducted a survey of Bay Area in-house counsel to obtain an idea of what, if anything, firms are providing to clients to add value to the relationship outside of the billable hour. The panel thought the survey would provide a practical tool to the audience and insight into actionable next steps the audience could implement immediately at their firms.

The results of the survey demonstrated that creativity and out-of-the-box thinking have not yet materialized into a true value-added service offering. This is not to say that firms are not adding value with activities such as training, relationship building and coalescing to AFA pressure.

However, just as good work has become stipulated for in-house counsel, the survey suggests that these particular activities are becoming expected as part of the relationship and are losing their luster as value-adds to the relationship.

...creativity and out-of-the-box thinking have not yet materialized into a true value-added service offering.

The survey results identified six categories where law firms can add value to the attorney client relationship:

  • internal process,
  • training,
  • relationship building,
  • knowledge of the client,
  • products,
  • and billing.

Training is a theme that goes beyond CLE and was discussed as both an opportunity for associates to learn important skills and build direct relationships with the client, as well as educating internal constituencies, such as boards of directors, the c-suite or sales teams.

Clients expect their outside counsel to have a focus on the specific laws and regulations currently in place, as well as those in development, that affect their industries and to bring this information and industry benchmarking data to them.

...an understanding the nuances of the client and their industry is a significant factor in the outside counsel selection process.  

The survey also suggests that outside counsel would do well to step into the shoes of in-house counsel to help them realize that an understanding of the nuances of the client and their industry is a significant factor in the outside counsel selection process.  

Another interesting data point focused on the internal process of the law firm. The speed of corporate clients' decision processes does not allow for antiquated systems. For example, shortening the conflicts clearance process or route to AFA approvals were identified as value-adds.

The ultimate value-add ... make introductions to deals or direct sales of the client’s products.

Firms should take on process improvement programs, similar to what in-house counsel undergo, to demonstrate efficiency, leverage prior experience and reduce costs. One respondent specifically asked for templates at no cost. The ultimate value-add identified in the survey was to make introductions to deals or direct sales of the client’s products.

In many industries, the suggestions provided in the survey would be integral parts of the fee for the service. Yet law firms continue to want to be paid for every hour, not realizing the dichotomy this creates with the client.  Therefore, we can conclude that the bar is low when it comes to adding value that is not billed, and firms that implement value-added programs will differentiate themselves and increase profitability.

Download the Survey Results: The Case for Client Feedback

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[Dave Bruns is the Director of Client Services for Farella Braun + Martel, a Legal Market Association Hall of Famer, and a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. Connect with him on LinkedIn.]

 

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