Clients are using attorney bios as a selection vehicle—taking attorney assignments into their own hands.
Clients are going online, picking the attorneys they want on their matters—and telling law firms exactly who they want. Think of this new phenomenon as a self-service bar for clients. Corporate counsel used to use attorney bios to check out the people law firms proposed or want to use on a matter. No more. Now, the tables are turned.
Clients don’t want no for an answer when they select their attorneys. Few understand why the chosen lawyer behind the bio would not be available for their work. After all, they are a paying client. One top legal decision maker went as far as to call an associate after the partner indicated the selected associate was “too busy” to work on this client’s matter. When asked, the client savvy associate told the client they were never too busy to work on their matters. How many associates have the where-with-all to offer the only correct answer to this client query? Most would say it isn’t their decision or they are working on another matter.
Client Bad Behavior?
Some law firm partners say this is client bad behavior. Clients politely say bunk. They want what they want—when they want it. They are paying the freight.
Client’s new self-selection process is a direct result of law firms ignoring the most basic of client management strategies. These include:
Developing a client team with a dedicated group of attorneys meeting client needs—clients served by well-run teams rely on their team to pick their attorneys and don’t feel the need select from the firm roster.
Providing a single point of accountability who also acts as an ombudsman to find the right talent for their clients when and where they need it.
Staffing from across the firm. Clients selecting their attorneys from your attorney bios ignore offices, departments, and practices. They are unaware of reporting relationships within their law firms. Clients just pick the attorneys they want, where ever they may be.
Really knowing your client. We are talking deep, ongoing knowledge where you see new needs coming—and put the right attorneys in front of clients before they go shopping for attorneys on your site. Client feedback is one of the few proven vehicles to get this coveted, forward-looking insight.
Providing client-centric bios. Write all your bios through client eyes—focusing what they really look for and how they interpret what you have.
Asking clients what they want in their attorneys for different matters. Get ahead of their process and guide them through to the attorneys you recommend.
The law firms with client teams or dedicated client relationship executives rarely see their clients select their own attorneys. Clients will still check out the attorneys on your website and LinkedIn—but more with a mind towards learning instead of hiring.
Finally, value is destroyed when clients are picking their own attorneys. One of the many benefits of working with outside counsel is relying on these law firms to take over staffing responsibilities. The more work clients take on, the less value law firms provide.
Law firms protect client relationships and value by staying ahead of staffing and needs. We recommend enforcing client teams, single accountability, firmwide staffing strategies, and client feedback to ensure you know how to staff up for client needs before they ever ask. Law firms who let clients choose their staff before consulting you will start to be viewed as hotels for attorneys—inviting discounts, discussions of hourly rates, and logistics instead of solving client problems. Premium rates go to the problem solvers who make their clients’ lives easier.
Special thanks to Lisa Gasbarre Black, General Counsel, Catholic Charities, Alfred C. Perry Jr, General Counsel at Westfield Bank, and Ed Blakemore, Assistant General Counsel at Rockwell Automation for inspiring this blog post. I had the honor of moderating a panel with these dynamic individuals at the Practice Development Institute presented by The Legal Marketing Association and The Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association on November 15, 2018.