Beyond Excellent Legal Services: How Law Firms Can Add More Value
Excellent legal service is just the beginning for law firms and clients. As Ama Romaine, General Counsel at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab points out, “did you win the litigation or did you close the deal efficiently, effectively advocating for the client’s needs? In other words, there is never a substitute for good work.” Elizabeth Green says, “first and foremost we do excellent work for our clients.” In many ways, providing excellent legal advice, counsel and services is the basic expectation clients have. How law firms provide value and inspire loyalty beyond excellent legal services is a topic that will be covered at the Thomson Reuters Managing Partner Forum later this month, specifically in the The Full-Service Client Partnership: Examining Strategic Alliances through Technology & Business Operations panel. Sameena Kluck, the moderator of the panel, says, “It’s so important to know your client: what are their goals, what are their struggles?”
So law firms need to go above and beyond. One way to do that is to understand deeply the business and concerns of the client. Romaine says, “ I think anything that allows more time--meaningful, quality time with the legal team that really allows you to understand how that company operates, how it's structured and how it functions--that would strengthen the relationship because the advice would always be contextualized.” Romaine acknowledges that this is difficult to do from the outside, but this is of major importance to clients, so making the effort is one way for a law firm to demonstrate how invested they are in the relationship.
It’s never too early to think about how you can meet all of the client’s needs. Michael Caplan says, “we include our professional staff from marketing, pricing, IT, etc., in our pitches to help differentiate and foster all of a client’s needs, besides the existing matter.” Rodger Cole says, “I invest a lot of time getting to know my clients; what are their business goals and department goals, how do they fit into the business, and to whom are they responsible . . . when clients see this reflected in my communication, they know I’m looking out for them.” Green agrees, saying, “We work to ensure everyone from the youngest associate to the senior partners understand the client’s business so that we can be problem solvers. We make suggestions that protect their interests and save their money.”
Another way to think about it is understanding the pressures of the client; specifically the In House Counsel. Romaine says, “It is critically important to understand what the client is asking for and provide precisely what the client requests, recognizing there are usually internal realities that clients are trying to balance.” Empathy goes a long way, and understanding the pressures and limitations--even just the point of view, from an in house counsel can help law firms give him or her what they need to succeed. Cole says, “Our relationship with our clients has expanded to include broader business issues, and more awareness of our role in helping in-house counsel manage the operational goals of the legal department, from staffing to budgeting, professional development, use of technology, and even helping legal departments get involved with pro bono.”
Adding to that, Romaine says, ““What happens In House is you can get very myopic, you focus on your world, and it’s useful to have that broader perspective that we can take back and share with our business partners.” Romaine suggests that thought leadership can be very helpful--especially when it shows an industry perspective. She says, “A law firm might work on similar issues for ten clients. When I’m in house I’m working on ten issues for the same client. You might be able to give me info on trends and approaches, and it’s useful for me to have that information before I learn it internally.” Sharing timely information in a concise way can be another way of showing the client that you are thinking about them and their business. Michael Caplan says, “Being accessible, being able to negotiate, offering key investments, and sharing critical information with clients ‘just because’ are also key to maintaining those relationships.”
Additionally, maintaining transparency can be a crucial step in earning loyalty. Caplan says, “As lawyers today, we have to understand the pressures our clients are under in both litigation and transactions. It’s critical to be transparent about a client’s issues on a matter and not just agree or say yes to every idea they have. Clients want to be challenged. They’re paying a pretty hefty hourly rate most of the time and that is to have a lawyer(s) who can challenge the status quo and bring different perspectives, which breeds loyalty and shows a client that a lawyer or firm thinks about their needs first.”
You can learn more about the conference here. Read an earlier article on this panel about law firm and client collaboration here. Read more about the keynote speaker, Heidi Gardner and her research here.
Elizabeth Green, Partner & Leader, Bankruptcy, Restructuring and Creditors’ Rights practice, Baker & Hostetler LLP.
Michael Caplan, Chief Operating Officer, Goodwin Procter LLP.
Rodger R. Cole, Partner and Chair Litigation at Fenwick & West law Firm.