I attended The Lawyer event a couple of weeks ago and was reviewing my notes from the third panel discussion of the day on the disconnect between law firms and their clients. Our expert panel consisted of a mix of in-house and external law firms who sought to simplify what the problems were and why this was important. 

  • Adam Soames (Global Head of Business Development & Strategy, Hogan Lovells); 
  • Anthony White (Director of Business Development and Marketing, Stephenson Hardwood); 
  • Julia Boyle (Director of Legal Affairs, Telefonica UK); 
  • Fergus Speight, (General Counsel & Company Secretary, Royal London); 
  • and Moderated by Amanda Wadey, (Head of Practice Development - Commercial Disputes, RPC)

It's a truism in professional services that firms need to be more "client-focused" and a cursory poll in the room showed that nearly 70% of participants agreed with this statement. Our panel succinctly summed this disconnect in four key points:

  1. Client wants solutions - lawyers give advice.
  2. Lawyers strive for perfection - clients want ‘good enough’ (to get the job done).
  3. Clients want cost & time predictability - the billable hours model is at ends with this 'fixed cost' structure because in essence, lawyers are rewarded for inefficiency.
  4. The minority of partners in panel firms really knew their business/industry inside-out.

The good news is that the bar is perceived to be quite low, although this may be down to a bit of fear mongering among different firms so the next logical step is to ask, how can we remedy these poor showings? Here are a few takeaways from the experts: 

  • Speak the client's language: Mapping your relationships based on the language of the clients. It's useless talking about your own relationships and in your own lingo. Speak and interact as the client does. (Anthony White)
  • Be prepared to invest the time to build the relationship and empathise! said Julia Boyle. Chances are that if a client is employing a lawyer, they are dealing with a decent-sized problem and need more than just technical advice. Supporting this, Amanda Wadley stated that "the best lawyers are the best problem solvers!" Moreover, show that you care! Both Anthony and Fergus insisted that being able to demonstrate to a client how you care for them is of enormous importance. 
  • Predictability: Your client wants predictability (e.g. knowing you will be there if they need you) and certainty on future expenditure. Julia Boyle said budgetary surprises are not a good thing in a successful relationship. Monthly billing and clear invoicing avoids a lot of these issues and helps your client look great internally. 
  • Marginal gains: Adam Soanes advocated a Dave Brailsford-esque approach to your client relationship. Break down each component part of your client relationship (how you interact, invoice them, the post-sell care, etc.) and see how you can make that all 1% better. These cumulative gains tot up to a pretty big impact.