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The Mad Clientist

Shoddy Law Firm Work Doubles

By February 14, 2018April 16th, 2020No Comments

Shoddy work is driving clients crazy. And, it is driving twice as many clients crazy—in fact, 22% in 2017, up from 11% the previous year. 

Most of this sub-par work is unintentional. Certain law firms don’t even know they are missing the mark. What’s worse—clients simply let these firms fade away never to be hired again. Few law firms ask for client feedback, so they never learn what they’re doing wrong (or right). The decline of quality work is reflected in clients’ growing impatience and in their redefinition of quality. Here’s how it happens: 

Missing the Mark

Certain law firms didn’t do what clients asked. These firms often believe they did, but their clients think otherwise. Clients say these firms racked up a lot of hours, and more importantly, precious time passed before clients figured it out. 

The law firms believed in their heart they knew what the client wanted. But these firms did not confirm their strategy, work plan, and overall approach. They did not confirm the scope. They may have provided a budget—but figured they could blow through it if needed. And off they went, with the best of intentions, delivering shoddy work because the client couldn’t use it.  

Other firms believed their client’s goal was unrealistic. Acting in what they believed to be their client’s interest, they changed course. These self-correcting firms added people and tasks to do the right thing. They worked into the night making sure no deadline was missed. And a few developed irrefutable research to back their positions. The only missing element was the most important one: sharing any of this with their client—who was ultimately stunned by the invoice and the strategy—and not getting what they want. Maybe their client’s goal was unrealistic, but the responsibility lies with law firms to tell their clients why—on a timely basis. 

These miscommunications are the biggest reason even the best technical legal work turns shoddy in the eyes of clients. 

I Know Something You Don’t

Silence during ongoing work has graduated from annoying to shoddy. Silence undermines confidence and can make clients look bad. Corporate counsel expect to be advised and updated on a regular, systematic basis, and when needed for unique events. Anything less is low quality and signals clients are not front and center. Or worse—no one person is looking out for the client. 

Final Invoices

Top legal officers believe the budget is a proxy for strategy and risk management. Clients know budgets change—but they don’t change at the end of a matter—changes can be seen and managed. Clients have concluded an over-budget final invoice represents their firm’s lack of planning and the use of an ad hoc approach to their work. No management means no quality. 

Clients still talk of faulty research, incorrect citations, and mistakes showing up in their documents. These are relatively rare in comparison and not something clients worry about and look for; and somehow, they don’t drive clients crazy. Maybe because they don’t leave the legal department and are easily fixed.

Clients have neither the budget nor time to deal with issues they believe should never have come about in the first place. The main safeguard against shoddy work: over-communicate with your clients. Always tell and retell clients what you are doing and why. And tell them once more, to play it safe. As one top legal officer put it, “Communicate until it hurts.”


(Based on BTI research conducted on a rolling basis between February 2017 and December 2017. BTI conducted more than 350 independent, individual interviews with CLOs and General Counsel at Fortune 1000 companies and large organizations)

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