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“Effective Client-Adviser Relationships 2012” Part 1: Role of Management

10.01.12 | Susan Duncan

mgmt_2This post is one of four that discusses the findings of a survey conducted jointly by the Financial Times (FT), the Managing Partners’ Forum’ (MPF) and Meridian West. The survey results were pre-viewed at a one day conference hosted by PM Forum in London on September 27. The posts reflect findings from the survey, sessions and discussions at the conference and of course, views of the blog’s author.

As has been written about in previous postings, we are experiencing significant disruption throughout all sectors of the economy. Clients have had to retool, refocus, become leaner, and adjust to greater regulation while at the same time take advantage of the new opportunities posed by global markets and digitization.  Law firms have not kept pace with their clients in adjusting to the “new normal.” As noted in the 2012 FT/MPF/Meridian West Survey, law firms must make the transition from the old (and for many the current) model to the new model:

Old Model: Partner-Centric   Experts ==> New Model: Client Centric   Commercial Advisers
Fee-earner led ==> Collaborative
Hourly rate billing ==> Alternative and value pricing
Internally-focused metrics ==> Externally-focused metrics and benchmarks
Practice groups and specialists working in silos ==> Practice groups, specialists and partners from different firms   working together
No/little formal project management ==> Formal tools and processes for project management and process   improvement
In partners’ comfort zone ==> Out of partners’ comfort zone

Most law firms would say that they currently are focused on clients but few have genuinely implemented the policies and infrastructure to embed this as a cultural norm. According to the survey, clients do not rate firms as excelling in key areas that demonstrate the qualities of the client-centric adviser. For example, clients on average rate their law firms highly for technical competence (54% rate as excellent) but much lower on pro-activity (22% as excellent.)

One of the key findings of this survey was how important “the impression of being well-managed” it is to clients in the selection and retention of a firm. Ninety percent said it was either an “essential or important precondition of selection.” Clients in general perceive a firm’s contribution of management to be quite low (18% as excellent) and unfortunately, only 9% of CEOs in the survey view management contribution as excellent.

How do clients get an impression of whether a firm is well-managed?

Firms that focus more on their brand and reputation are missing the boat. Clients deem law firms to be well-managed if they do the following:

  • The Chairman/Managing Partner spends a majority of his/her time visiting with clients to focus on the client’s needs and issues (not on business development opportunities). Ongoing dialogue is critical. For example, Liz Kelly, Group General Counsel for Nationwide Building Society, has quarterly, half-day meetings with her key law firm advisers.
  • Management effectively defines the firm’s industry and niche service focus (assuming the firm has been strategic in developing this focus and knowledge.)
  • Management regularly monitors, measures and remunerates its lawyers on the basis of client feedback about performance.
  • Management invests in technology, processes and professionals who make the firm’s engagement with and delivery of services to clients efficient.
  • Deliver consistency of service and quality experience across the firm, with every touch point, every interaction and every transaction, regardless of location, type of matter or level of personnel.

As noted in strategy + business, a magazine published by Booz & Co., “Recessions create a lot of disruption, and they kill off some weaker businesses that are doing things in an outmoded way – and that creates all kinds of opportunities.” In order to be sure your firm is one of the winners during this time of disruption, you will have to embrace and aggressively pursue a client-centric focus and culture.

Our next post will address what clients mean by wanting more commerciality from their law firms.