A Costly Communication Gap between In-house Counsel and Their Law Firms
Two national surveys reveal that there is a potentially costly communication gap between in-house counsel and their outside law firms.
"An important message for law firms is that they should consider redirecting at least part of the time and money that they are spending on new client marketing, to assess and address existing client concerns," the Association of Corporate Counsel and Serengeti Law stated in a news release announcing the results of their eighth annual "Managing Outside Counsel" survey.
However, in sharp contrast to that statement, the Legal Marketing Association's survey, "Marketing the Marketer," revealed that in 2008 client feedback was the lowest priority in the respondents' marketing budgets.
The ACC and Serengeti surveyed 337 law departments equally representing U.S. companies ranging from less than $100 million in annual revenues to over $1 billion in annual revenues. According to their survey, one- third of the participating in-house counsel cited communication and personality issues as reasons for terminating law firms. What law firms find out from obtaining extensive client feedback is that too often the originating attorney, usually a longtime business advisor of a client, is unaware of these issues until the work is lost.
Here are three cases in point:
Poor communication between a service partner and an in-house staff attorney resulted in a longtime client shifting a particular type of work to another firm. The originating attorney did not this know until he found out through the client interview. That knowledge enabled the firm to win back the work.
A million-dollar client revealed in a Strategic Client Interview that he was turned off by a particular attorney on the client service team of a lateral partner's new law firm. To the lateral partner's surprise, the client had already started to send new work elsewhere. Immediate follow-up, however, saved the relationship.
The officers of a major corporation, a top-tier client of a firm, voiced concern over the attorney who would apparently succeed the originating attorney, who was on the verge of retirement. The law firm learned through this Strategic Client Interview to prepare another partner to take over as the primary attorney, and to appropriately obtain this client's buy-in on this successor.
As the ACC and Serengeti Law recommend, consider investing some resources into addressing client concerns. Listen to what your clients have to say about your law firm's service and capabilities. To do that, you will need the help of an expert who knows how to ask the right and probing questions that will induce clients to speak openly and with candor.
The firms that listen to their clients are not investing in the effort simply because it's a nice thing to do for client relations. They are implementing a pragmatic and cost-effective management as well as marketing tool.
As the president of a healthcare management company concluded in a Strategic Client Interview: "None of the other firms we used to use were listening to us. Last year we spent $1.5 million in legal fees, which were our average fees at another firm. They did our deals and other types of work. But they wouldn't listen to me, so they lost us."
Make client feedback a top priority in 2009. Strategic Client Interviews will help protect your firm's valuable business.