What Clients Want

What are the key factors that lead to a successful long-term relationship between corporate clients and their outside counsel? LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell (in association with The Global Legal Post) have just released a report of a 2012 survey of in-house counsel in Western Europe that seeks to answer that question. The report examines the following issues:
  • Selection factors,  reasons for reviews of panel firms, and the frequency of those reviews.
  • Factors influencing the retention of firms for future work.
  • Top reasons for the removal of firms from preferred panels/lists.
  • Approach taken by in-house counsel to evaluate law firm performance and common themes in feedback.
  • Value-adding elements of relationships.

Of the 219 in-house lawyers who participated across 16 countries in Western Europe, the results were very clear:

  • To be successful, a law firm must demonstrate that it understands its client’s business needs.
  • A guaranteed way to end a client relationship prematurely is to provide poor service.
  • Cost is a factor, but it can be outweighed by the high quality of the firm’s service and the extent to which the firm demonstrates its understanding of client needs.
  • Clients appreciate value-added services such as free training seminars and lawyer secondments.

Be a Trusted Advisor

Clearly, knowing the law is necessary but not sufficient. Clients aren’t looking for an erudite legal lecture, they want the assurance that you understand their situation and have the legal sophistication to apply the law appropriately to their facts.  Beyond that, clients want to know that your understanding of their business is so deep that you can anticipate their needs and be active in helping manage their legal exposure. In other words, your client wants you to be a trusted advisor, not just a technician for hire.

How can KM help deliver what the clients want?

If your knowledge management program has focused primarily on legal documents thus far, now would be a good time to think about adding some current awareness programs.  In addition, consider partnering with library and training professionals to provide opportunities for lawyers to learn more deeply about client industries: What are the economic drivers? What are the pressures? Where are the opportunities? Look for ways to passively capture KM resources from these training programs and from the related conversations within client service teams.

Focus on Feedback

Lawyers are notoriously thin-skinned, so they sometimes shy away from asking directly about client expectations and satisfaction. As a result, they can find it difficult at times to understand how best to serve their clients. The report addresses this issue squarely:

Most respondents were also very happy to participate in feedback programmes conducted by their law firms, although less than half had received an invitation to provide this. However, law firms appear to be even less committed to using customer insights to help strengthen their relationship. Only 28% of survey respondents said that their law firms came back to them to share the results and communicate improvements or changes that would be made as a result of feedback received.

Thanks to this report, we now have some insight into exactly what clients are looking for.  Although the report relates to a study of in-house counsel in Western Europe, I have a hard time believing that their North American counterparts have materially different expectations of their lawyers. Put another way, I think a North American law firm would be foolish to disregard these results.

The client has spoken.  The rest is up to us.


5 thoughts on “What Clients Want

  1. Perhaps also worth stating that this is for the corporate market – the issue of costs may well feature higher up the list with personal legal services, but unquestionably, service is a factor which cannot be underestimated in the new legal landscape.

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