Certainty is comfort. And you can find it in this sea of unpredictability called the pandemic. Expect changes in client behaviors and expectations. Clients have added a whole new set of needs to their plate and many have new opinions about law firms — mostly for the better. This translates into 7 certainties to emerge from the depths of uncertainty we are all in today.
More Turnover of Key Decision Makers in the Client Base
Top legal officers want to make a change. Their direct reports want more opportunities. More and more clients are close enough to retirement where they are going to take the leap — especially since the pandemic. This was their swansong and they want to leave a nice package for their successor.
Your skill in onboarding these new clients will define your relationship moving forward. Welcome your clients and shower them with knowledge about what you have going on, what you are doing, and how you plan to help — you will have an engaged client from day one.
Letting the new individual come onboard and conducting business as usual is inviting an RFP for a new panel in the next 18 to 24 months.
The most successful law firms have or will develop a formal process — and train a group of partners — to onboard new decision makers at existing clients. The firm will provide an approach and questions to ask to help your new client come up to speed quickly — and show the firm’s level of investment. Each successful firm sends out a leadership partner to extend a formal welcome and offer to help in any situation — professional or personal.
More Partner Turnover
Much like their GC counterparts, more than a few remaining baby boomers think it’s time to go live the other parts of their lives full time as result of the pandemic. They are ready to retire or start an encore career. This compels every law firm to prepare a succession plan, or update existing plans for every major client — quickly.
Business Development Is a Quantum Leap Harder
Law firms excel at rising to an occasion. Clients now have a new standard by which to measure their law firms. Clients want more insight and thoughts about how you will approach things as they face new and novel matters coming out of the pandemic. This expectation is part of the next normal. Some attorneys will jump on this opportunity to share new ideas and will be a step ahead of everyone else. Those who decline to offer ideas will be behind the new business development curve.
Industry Knowledge Is the Business Development Currency
Every industry is hit differently and responding in their own way. Some are thriving. Each faces different threats from the same issues. Clients will embrace those attorneys who bring industry knowledge — and generously share these insights. If you don’t know any industry subtleties — do your research and ask questions. Clients see industry insights as a crucial component to helping with whatever comes — the rewards will go to those who can bring them and ask the right questions to draw them out.
Clients Expect to Restart Issuing RFPs
RFPs took a back seat to the pandemic but are starting to creep back into the client lexicon. Clients are slowly feeling as though they are getting used to the shockwaves and starting to look to the future. They are listening beyond the COVID-19 resource centers to pick out the law firms who understand them best. The remainder plan to issue RFPs to help deal with a broad set of evolving needs — and will ask for more in these RFPs than ever before. Even if the words aren’t stated — the expectations are clear — clients want to know your new ideas and thinking before they hire you.
AFAs Will Become a Longstanding Member of the Legal Landscape
The amount of work will exceed legal budgets. The nature of the expected legal issues prevents clients from making wholesale cuts to the budgets. As we discuss, clients report 17% savings through the use of Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs). Clients have few better ways to effectively increase their budgets than using AFAs.
Associates Will Play a Much Bigger Role in Matters
You will likely need a combination of AFAs and more associates to help keep budgets down. Clients will say less about using associates as long as they know they are covered under a fixed fee. The fee certainty takes the sting out of clients thinking they have to train associates, or they aren’t as efficient as partners. This is one more step in law firms becoming more associate-heavy in their work.
Expect certainties to emerge as the path to reopening unfolds. Clients are looking for certainty in budgets, deadlines, and reliability — along with smart counsel and industry insight. In some ways, this is no different than what clients wanted pre-pandemic — except now the stakes are a lot bigger.
Be safe. Be well. Be careful.
The MAD Clientist
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