September 16, 2022 – In a pitch to a prospective client, it is common to see the general counsel ask attorneys to provide information on three topics: approach for the matter, proposed budget, and the unique value the firm could provide. Requests for information on “value” are becoming more and more frequent, with most RFPs asking specifically about value in addition to price.
Value is also coming up in outside counsel scorecards. Clients — and their legal operations teams — are asking firms about value in relationship meetings. And clients are telling firms in feedback surveys and interviews that value can make or break a hiring decision. This trend is industry-wide, according to the Wicker Park Group, which supports law firm feedback programs. In 2020, 94% of clients interviewed by Wicker Park brought up the concept of adding value as a determining factor in outside counsel selection. This was an increase of 20% over the prior year.
With clients so focused on value, how can firms and attorneys do a better job of adding value to the client relationship? There’s an easy, but often overlooked answer — engage the business professionals in your firm’s administrative departments.
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Many law firms are well-versed in table-stakes value adds like CLE training and thought leadership. Some law firms do a good job of adding value by providing clients with proactive business advice, leveraging their broad experience across an industry to advise a client on what they might not know.
But few firms are actively thinking about how the professionals who support the business of the firm can also be supporting clients by meeting directly with clients, listening to their needs, and partnering with them to develop solutions.
Teams responsible for the business of law can help grow the business of the firm by focusing on client value. Here are five areas where firms should be engaging their administrative teams to support client relationships.
1. Experiences and technology: In consumer-facing markets, businesses have begun to pivot from focusing solely on products and services to focusing on the customer experience. There’s significant data underlying this decision.
According to PwC, 73% of customers say experience is an important factor in their purchasing decisions, ranking behind price and product quality. PwC also found that customers are willing to pay more for good experiences, with 43% willing to pay more for greater convenience and 42% willing to pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience.
While the B2C market has gone all in on experiences, the legal industry is just beginning to catch up. Some firms have made client service a mandate of the marketing and business development department, but other firms have formed teams dedicated solely to client service. These teams, including the client experience department at the authors’ firm, run firms’ client feedback programs and dig deep on client needs to develop solutions.
There are multiple benefits to firms dedicating resources solely to client service and value: Clients are more candid in their feedback when talking to a neutral third party, and client service professionals have broad cross-practice experience that leads to more creative solutions.
The same is true for dedicated innovation teams that focus on using technology to deliver legal services more effectively and efficiently. These teams should be separate from the IT department so that client-facing projects aren’t put on the back burner when the next IT crisis hits.
2. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI): Nearly every law firm has administrative team members focused on DEI, from chief diversity officers to managers and coordinators. These professionals are often responsible for a firm’s internal DEI efforts, including training and programming, as well as reporting on demographic information requested by clients or for benchmarking efforts, like Mansfield Certification.
Fewer firms, however, are leveraging these DEI professionals to engage directly with clients — but there’s great value in doing so. Legal departments are facing many of the same challenges as law firms when it comes to recruiting and retaining diverse talent, but in-house teams often lack dedicated DEI resources to help them launch new initiatives or implement policies and procedures.
The authors have found that many clients are keenly interested in DEI, but don’t know where to start. Law firms’ internal DEI teams can serve as a sounding board, provide guidance on what works and what doesn’t, share intel from across the industry, and connect clients with other clients for help.
3. Pro bono: Like DEI, many firms have administrative teams that manage the firm’s pro bono efforts. But the value of these team members extends beyond helping a firm’s attorneys meet their bar-mandated requirements.
Law firm pro bono teams are a wealth of information when it comes to sourcing pro bono opportunities that assist various under-served communities. By looping in your firm’s pro bono team in client conversations, the pro bono professionals can suggest projects and programs that appeal to a client’s unique interests and that meet the in-house team’s pro bono requirements.
As an example, one longstanding client told attorneys at the authors’ firm that it wanted to partner with the firm on pro bono projects that advanced the company’s DEI goals. The pro bono team worked directly with the client to launch a name change project in support of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. Through this project, members of the in-house team work with outside counsel attorneys to provide pro bono legal name change services to low-income transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people.
4. Pricing: If you are submitting an RFP response or pitch to a client, it’s very likely that you have involved your law firm’s pricing team. That team probably has crunched the numbers and helped you develop the appropriate hourly rate or alternative fee arrangement for the matter. But did you ever think about including pricing team members in the conversation with the client about the fees?
Connecting your pricing team directly with the client helps provide more context about a pricing proposal and the reasons behind it — including firm-wide data on similar matters. The pricing team can also help uncover a client’s true needs when it comes to pricing.
Attorneys often assume that clients just want a discount or that they’re seeking the lowest price possible. While that is sometimes true, clients often are more interested in fee predictability and certainty because adherence to budget can be more important than the budget itself. Your pricing professionals can help you learn more about these client motivators so you can design a pricing structure that truly meets their needs.
5. In-house operations: According to the Wicker Park Group, clients want their outside firms to provide more proactive advice — to leverage their insights from across clients to suggest topics or issues the client should be paying attention to. This has arisen frequently in client feedback, and in-house teams are proactively asking firms through the outside counsel scorecard process to suggest improvements to the attorney-client relationship.
This is yet another area where your firm’s business professionals can add value, given their broad experience with many different types of clients. Your marketing team can provide best practices for issuing and evaluating RFPs, including information on how certain RFP software functions. Your library and competitive intelligence teams can share insight into the best research tools for monitoring competitors and pending legislation. Your IT department can help clients evaluate different document management systems and choose the right one for their needs. The possibilities are endless.
With inflation on the rise and outside counsel fees increasing, smart law firms know that they will need to focus on delivering value to retain clients and grow business. The smartest firms, however, will be those that look beyond CLEs and training to engage their business professionals in unique value adds to meet clients’ needs.
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