In December, we released a report examining corporate clients’ attitudes towards their outside counsel. The report examined why law firms get fired, how clients fire them, and what law firms can do about it.
One of my favorite — albeit, in a scary way — findings from that study was that 58% of clients report shifting at least some portion of their portfolio of work from one law firm to another every one-to-two years. And 18% of respondents said they shift work more than once a year! In a market notorious for flat demand, that level of volatility is something worth noting. It shows great opportunity for firms to win new work, but also a huge threat to existing client portfolios.
When asked why they’re moving work, clients most often cited a lack of value as the key reason. So what does that mean? It means that however the client defines value, they’re not getting it from their outside law firms, and it’s leaving a bad taste in their mouths. How do they define value? You’d have to ask them, and unfortunately, very few firms do.
For example, according to the Altman Weil Law Firms in Transition Survey from last year, only 44% of law firms are training their lawyers to talk with their clients about pricing. This leaves a lot of lawyers ill-equipped to explain how a matter is priced when a client asks about it — and while price isn’t the only measure of value, we all know it’s vital. If a lawyer hasn’t been trained to talk about pricing with their clients, how can they adequately communicate the value the client will receive for the prices they’re being charged? On top of that, less than 30% of law firms say they’re asking their clients about their pricing preferences. How can a firm deliver against the client’s expectations for how a matter should be priced when they’ve never asked what those expectations are?
A full 58% of clients report shifting at least some portion of their work from one law firm to another every one-to-two years. And 18% of respondents said they shift work more than once a year!
For most clients, a few key themes emerge in the value conversation: efficiency, cost effectiveness, and predictability. These are not traits for which law firms have historically been known. The tide is slowly turning with respect to these attributes, but the faster a firm can move to deliver in these areas, the better off they will be. Coupling these ideas with a detailed conversation around what a particular client values will only serve to enhance the firm’s standing in the eyes of that client.
And it’s incumbent on the firms to ask — because if you’re not asking, they’re not likely to tell you. Fully 56% of clients say that they either don’t tell a law firm why they’ve been fired, or they will give a reason only if asked. Moreover, if they give a reason, it may not be completely honest. As one respondent put it: “Sometimes it’s easier to give an excuse than offer the actual reason, which the firm may try to debate.” Clients may not feel they’re getting sufficient value from a firm, but they’re not going to tell the firm that. They want to keep future options open.
Clients don’t want to just pay for something — they want to feel they are buying something of value. We all feel that way about many of the things we purchase.
And clients’ buying behaviors back this up. The recently released State of the Corporate Legal Department report found that two-thirds of corporations consider it a priority to allocate more work to those outside firms who are delivering value effectively.
In value delivery, clearly, there is great opportunity but also great risk. Do it well and you can reap the benefits. Fail to understand what your clients want, and you risk being among those firms whose clients fall into the 58% who are shifting work regularly.