Despite in-house teams championing change to the traditional law firm model, recent research suggests that their voice is not always heard and there continues to be a significant disconnect between what in-house teams want and what law firms deliver.
Our LexisNexis report Amplifying the Voice of the Client, produced in conjunction with Dr Kishore Sengupta at Cambridge’s Judge Business School makes it clear that in-house teams want changes across the board from law firms; including reassessing working practices, pricing, firm structures and client relationship management.
Where is the disconnect between law firm and client?
There are 3 persistent causes of disconnect that arose from the research:
- The Service Offering – Advice v Solutions: Clients repeatedly emphasised that they look to law firms for solutions to business problems. For the most part, the solutions need to be “good enough”, delivered timely, and in a format that enables them to make decisions quickly. The vast majority of clients interviewed however indicated that instead they receive good diagnoses but get very little by way of commercial solutions.
- Service Quality – “Good Enough”? Law firms typically strive to provide the best advice they can. In many cases, however clients are looking for advice that is “good enough” rather than “gold standard”. The result is that clients feel that the value received is not commensurate with the cost incurred and time taken.
- Service Delivery – Certainty and Predictability: Clients repeatedly mention that they have poor visibility from law firms on the work being undertaken, costs incurred, and timelines. In their view, they accept that some engagements will take more time than planned, others less, but it is for the law firm to manage their overall “wins and losses” and price accordingly.
“Clients are getting serious about the way they select law firms to work with. Firms are not realising the seriousness of panel reviews. These reviews are not something to be tolerated before reverting to old ways of working, but rather a wakeup call to the firm to either change or lose out on the work.” Stéphanie Hamon, Managing Director and Head of Commercial Management at Barclays Legal.
Can the gap be bridged?
The report does confirm, however, that evidence from other professional service sectors suggests the disconnect can be repaired though concrete actions. It broadly identifies five recommendations your law firm should consider:
- Operate in a joined up manner: law firms need to maintain internal visibility of all work done for you. They should appoint key account representatives with a clear mandate for integration and work on providing better external visibility to you through a two-way line of sight.
- Identify opportunities for creating mutual value: law firms need to better understand your business and unearth opportunities for creating value. They are in an excellent position to spot trends and developments in specific sectors and can help you by sharing knowledge and providing guidance. They can also provide an “outside, looking in” perspective that you do not necessarily have.
- Deepen relationships: lawyers should ensure their relationships with you are distinct from the interactions driven by transactions. This requires moving beyond pragmatic engagements to providing a sense of partnership where you feel protected and valued.
- Understand you through “customer journeys”: law firms need to better understand the multiple ways in which your interactions are conducted. This can be done through client journeys, where a set of repeated interactions are carefully mapped to identify insights on gaps, pain points, etc. Client journeys will yield opportunities for improving your experience, and the overall operations of the law firm.
- Incorporate a “third party” perspective: using third party perspectives to monitor your interactions can be used to examine both the relationship and the engagement to provide the insights needed to ensure you are satisfied.
“It would be wonderful to have our panel tell us about what’s going on in the sector. We don’t want competitor specific information, but surely there are trends and implications that they can share.”
What, if anything, can in-house counsel do to support change?
During the research, in-house counsel did acknowledge that more could be done to support their firms work in a different way.
This included being clearer with expectations; giving greater thought to how work is allocated and being more straightforward with the way you select law firms to work with.
Rob Booth, General Counsel and Company Secretary at The Crown Estate, sums it up well. He cited “transparency, clarity and consistency” as his suggestions for the three key elements to improving the relationship.
Click here to download the full report, with detailed analysis.
An evolving journey
There is certainly desire on both sides to find new ways of working that provide greater transparency and an adaptable, flexible approach.
Nonetheless, as highlighted there are steps – on both sides of the divide – that can be taken to help bridge the gap. And that is just a start.
Continue dialogue. Sharing learnings is another critical step to explore what works and the make it work even better.
To this end, we have been supporting in-house counsel forge partnerships that add value and enable you and your business to seize opportunities for over 10 years, sharing best practice from fellow in-house counsel and experts through interviews, discussion papers and selective networking events.
Listening and learning to you, the in-house community, we continually develop exclusive guidance and practical advice on working with law firms and sourcing legal services. From examining remuneration options and innovative ways of working with law firms to setting up a panel or even exploring potential sources of legal services beyond traditional law firms. Find out more about how our portfolio – tailored specifically for in-house counsel – can support you bridge the gap.