Large Law Firm KM: How to Manage Legal IT Vendors

gavel This panel of legal technology vendors promised to explain to the rest of us how to develop a productive relationship with our vendors.

[These are my notes from a recent private gathering of large law firm knowledge management leaders. Since the conversations are by agreement off the record, the comments below are without attribution.]

Session Title: Manage Providers for Success and Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy

  • From the vendor’s perspective, what’s the biggest challenge in working with law firm clients?
    • One-sided contracts:  Both parties need to have reasonable expectations of each other. Law firms are so used to writing one-sided contracts. Unfortunately, this often result in a bad start to the relationship with the vendor.
      • This situation has become even tougher now that vendors have to deal with law firm general counsel. The general counsel are sometimes overly focused on protecting the firm, without realizing that there is a relationship with the vendor that needs to be nurtured in order to ensure a satisfactory outcome for all parties involved. There has to be a reasonable level of give and take.
    • Scope:  Law firms don’t always do a great job of communicating throughout their entire team the nature and limits of the agreed scope. Therefore, the vendors are often faced with requests from various parts of the team for extensions of scope.
  • A good project manager within a law firm is worth her weight in gold.
    • She can ensure that the parts of the project to be undertaken by firm personnel are completed in a timely fashion.
    • The most successful projects are those where the vendor’s primary law firm contact (e.g., the project manager) understands the scope limitations.
    • In addition, it is important that the project manager work in an empathetic way. This role involves more than merely corralling internal resources.
  • When the client (i.e., law firm) sees itself truly as a partner of the vendor, and believes that they and the vendor are in it together, then the vendor is more likely to work harder and bring its best game. In the words of one of the panelists: with the tough clients (who do not see this partnership), you do what needs to be done, but may not go above and beyond.
  • What issues commonly make things go badly in the relationship or on the project?
    • Project deadlines should never be pegged to the date of the firm retreat. These deadlines will almost always slip. This is an invitation for disaster.
    • Tension between the knowledge management department and the IT department.
    • When there is a huge disconnect between what the project is seeking to accomplish and what can be done. Missed expectations such as this can be fatal to the relationship.
  • What if the client doesn’t know what they want?
    • The scoping exercise at the outset helps determine whether the client has appropriate expectations supported by solid requirements.
  • How to deal with a procurement function within a client firm?
    • They often immediately just take 10% off the agreed budget, without understanding that the budget is carefully crafted by the vendor after extensive consultation with the law firm’s business people.
    • One procurement person added six months to a project because they dragged out the pricing discussion without fully understanding the context for and requirements of the project.
  • Law firm legal demands sometimes are unfair
    • Each of the vendors reported receiving contract language from law firms that dictated that the law firm would own all the intellectual property or software produced by the process. This is absolutely untenable for the vendors since that intellectual property is all they have to share with their other clients.
  • Communication on a project
    • From the vendor’s perspective, it is better if the client provides feedback on a regular basis rather than just saving up their comments until the end of the project. By providing constant feedback, you can improve the relationship while the parties are still invested in it rather than waiting until the point that the relationship is beyond salvaging.
    • To ensure appropriate opportunities for client feedback, set up regular check-in meetings. (Several law firms present said that they found it extremely helpful to check-in with their vendors once each week just to make sure nothing was going off the rails. These conversations also help to nip in the bud any errors or misunderstandings.)

[Photo Credit: Sal Falko]






Comments are closed.

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑