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The Mad Clientist

Clients to Law Firms: Most of You Still Stuck in the Past

By July 27, 2016April 16th, 2020No Comments

                “If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.”
       – General Eric Ken Shinseki, US Army, Retired

The number of law firms making positive change is finally reaching critical mass. This is bad news for the law firms who clients tell us are “slow to move” or worse—“stuck in the past.” The pace may be glacial, or even merely slow, but change at law firms is certainly noticed by clients. And, the rate of change is a differentiator.

Law Firms Changing for the Better Doubles—Still a Minority

43.5% of corporate counsel tell us* their law firms are changing for the better. This is almost double the number in 2010, when it was 24.5%. Clients name the following as evidence of their upgraded experience:

  • Offering AFAs with some degree of comfort and ease
  • Better client service
  • Improved value through changes in staffing
  • More structured and streamlined approach to managing cases
  • Discussing business issues as well as legal issues
  • Embracing e-discovery related technology
  • Bringing more industry knowledge alongside their legal counsel

Majority of Law Firms Still Stuck in the Past

56.5% of top legal decision makers say their law firms are stuck and can’t seem to change. Clients describe these law firms in 3 ways:

  • The Talkers: Able to talk about change but can’t seem to make it happen. This is especially true when these firms talk about AFAs, staffing, e-discovery related technology, and client service.
  • The Mercenaries: Higher rates are the only noticeable change.
  • The Oppositional: Firms are dismissive of requests to save money, reluctant to start settlement talks in litigation and show no interest in streamlined approaches. These law firms also avoid anything to do with AFAs. Some of these firms still tell GCs their requests for changes are counterproductive, and budget overruns are unpredictable and inevitable.

In some cases, law firms are just not doing a good job in communicating the nature and extent of their new ways—or the new ways are an improvement but are still behind the curve. We also found a few rogue partners who are ruining the branding of some truly progressive and transformative law firms by resisting change on their own.

You can test how fast your clients think you are changing by building this into your client feedback. Clients are happy to tell where and what they see—and what they don’t. Your clients are also happy to make suggestions on how to make their lives easier. In short, your clients will help you move forward at a faster pace.

Ultimately, if you don’t change, your clients are going to change law firms. And, as General Shinseki suggests, you then become irrelevant.


*Based on BTI research conducted between March 2015 and September 2015. BTI conducted more than 300 independent, individual interviews with CLOs and General Counsel at Fortune 1000 companies and large organizations.

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