For at least a decade or two, law firms that wanted to stand out in value to their most important clients have provided “added value” by giving them services for free, including CLE training and other resources they used to charge clients for. After the Great Recession of 2008 and the launch of the ACC Value Challenge, clients began to more actively ask for and expect value over and above the legal services they paid for. In fact, many began soliciting specific value-added services they could expect to receive in the RFPs they issued to their outside firms.
What has not changed is that although legal departments have grown dramatically in the last twenty years, the in-house lawyers continue to be spread thinly, often operating in reactive or crisis mode to get deadlines met and deliverables delivered. Clients have increasingly depended on their outside firms to provide value to them over and above the billable work they are asked to do. I recommend that relationship and matter oversight partners actually track the time/expense their firms give to clients for these value enhancements and discuss it at an annual relationship review. It is a way for firms to remind clients of the depth of their investment in the client relationship, to get feedback on what was worthwhile or not, and to serve as a conversation starter about client needs and interests in additional or alternative value services or paid services.
Which Value-Add Offerings are the Most Appreciated?
As with anything you do for clients, the best way to determine specific ways in which you can add value is to ask! Initiate a meaningful dialogue with each client to ask them what they most need, what you have done in the past that was or was not worthwhile, what they are receiving from other providers and what you could do that others aren’t. Nine of the most common Value-Added offerings include:
Client Relationship Management/Oversight: For many of their largest clients (large will usually mean the top 20, revenue-generating repeat clients,) firms will often devote as many as 100-200 partner hours per year that are not billed to the client. These hours are used on strategic conversations with the client about their business, short five-minute questions clients have that firms don’t want to nickel and dime for, internal client team discussions and meetings on client needs, strategies and their industry, matter budgeting, scoping and monitoring, social and entertainment activities, discussions with the client about ongoing matters, feedback and continuous improvement activities, discussions to resolve billing and conflict challenges, panel firm conferences, etc. In some instances, firms even dedicate full-time relationship managers, billing managers and project managers to specific clients at “no additional charge” to the client. These non-billable services are often provided to many clients in firms, not just the top 20, but not usually in such high volume.
CLE On-site Training and Webinars: As travel and expense budgets have been slashed, in-house lawyers may struggle to meet their lawyers’ mandatory CLE requirements. In addition, legal departments often prefer their own “bespoke” training sessions on new, emerging trends and issues. Law firms often have a CLE professional on staff to obtain the necessary approvals in each state and usually offer a range of on-site workshops, training seminars or webinars to clients on topics they are most interested in. This benefits the client but also provides the firm an opportunity to introduce new lawyers with different areas of expertise into the client relationship.
Non-Legal Executive, Company and Support Training: Many of the issues that in-house lawyers work on emanate from the business itself – from the c-suite, the business units, the operations staff, the Board, etc. Most of these legal issues have relevance for the business’ stakeholders and could even be improved upon or avoided if some process-mapping and avoidance strategies were put in place. Law firms can add great value by offering free or discounted workshops and training on topics including internal culture related to bias, harassment and discrimination, global compliance and risk on privacy, cyber-security, FCPA, FCA, crisis and risk management, etc.
Collaboration Among Legal Ops Professionals: Legal departments and law firms each have grown their in-house staffs of legal ops professionals, those who support the functions of technology (tools, AI, automation,) pricing, knowledge management, process and project management, vendor management, outsourcing, etc. It would both improve the law firm/client relationship as well as the skills and improved collaboration by conducting and sharing training, resources and even access to shared platforms or tools.
Audits/Policy Reviews: Often as a way to evaluate whether or not a client could use a new service the firm feels the client could use and they could provide perhaps better than a current provider, law firms often offer to do a limited audit of policies, training materials, employee manuals, a set of specific type of contracts, new compliance language in documents, etc. While the scope of this value offering must be clearly defined so that the firm is not taking on an unreasonable amount for free or a reduce fee, this is an excellent way to provide value and to demonstrate your ability to improve upon what the company might currently be doing or providing.
Secondments: Legal departments have long used secondments – lawyers from their law firms who join the in-house legal team for a specified period of time – usually to fill a temporary need created by a lawyer on maternity/paternity or other leave or to provide support on a large, but short-term project basis. While some clients have required that their law firms second an associate to them for free, as part of the engagement agreement, most agree to pay the associate’s salary on a lower cost basis. As law firms continue to expand their own workforces with different types of skills, levels and professional roles, clients could benefit from having others serve in seconded roles for specified rotation terms. The benefits to the firm is the closer ties it develops with the client and each secondee gains knowledge of the people, culture, approaches and philosophy of the client.
“Looking Around the Corner” Briefings and Alerts: Some of the best value lawyers can bring to in-house clients are periodic updates on new developments or trends that may affect individual clients. While digital client alerts are helpful, in-house counsel are inundated with these emails, most of which don’t customize a cover note that identifies issues of particular importance to the specific company/client. A better approach may be picking up the phone for a quick call. However you do it, keep clients apprised of issues that will affect them in the future, whether by phone call, email, alerts or on-site briefings.
Diversity: Companies are putting more pressure on outside vendors to demonstrate their commitment to diversity. Many General Counsel are evaluating outside firms for their efforts and success at hiring, advancing and crediting diverse lawyers. But legal departments also struggle with improving the diversity of their teams. Law firms can add value by conducting joint recruiting efforts in which new lawyers rotate through both the client and the law firm, participate in more formal programs like the Mansfield Rule programs offered by Diversity Lab, and include clients’ diverse lawyers in any training their firms do for diverse lawyers.
Pro Bono: Many legal departments have no formal process to encourage and/or reward their lawyers to participate in pro bono activities. Since most law firms do have a formal program, often with a pro bono coordinator, clients can be invited to collaborate with firm lawyers on pro bono projects and to join them in other charitable or civic causes. Working together on charitable activities promotes collaboration, shared values and deeper, multi-dimensional relationships between clients and their firms.
RainMaking Oasis provides consulting, training and coaching services to law firms and lawyers in the areas of business development and growth strategy, innovation, client retention and expansion, succession planning and leadership and personal effectiveness skills. Please contact Susan Duncan at email@example.com.