Communication is the foundation of any successful relationship, yet numerous surveys and studies have shown that within the context of the attorney-client relationship, corporate clients have routinely expressed frustration about communication with their law firms, as well as the limited visibility they have into matters which are handled by outside counsel. Why is this important, and how does it impact the relationship between corporate clients and their outside counsel?
In a study by LexisNexis examining areas of disconnect between corporate clients and their law firms, clients regularly reported that the certainty and predictability were significant causes of concern. Specifically, clients expressed frustration with “poor visibility from law firms on the work being undertaken, costs incurred, and timelines. They lack the degree of certainty and predictability in cost and time that they seek (and need to convey to their internal clients).” These issues weaken relationships and, unsurprisingly, can result in corporate clients replacing outside counsel, or exploring alternatives, including value-based service providers, technology options, and project-based fee arrangements.
Of course the scope of legal work, and litigation in particular, is not always predicable, but surely this level of frustration can be reduced – this is a solvable problem.
As a starting point, in order to communicate effectively and provide clients with the visibility they desire (and need), law firms must have a solid understanding of their clients’ businesses and goals. Indeed, 40% of the clients interviewed in connection with the LexisNexis study noted that the senior partners of law firms working on their businesses had merely a very basic knowledge of their businesses, and they characterized their partner interactions “superficial.” In-house counsel can support and encourage their outside counsel to learn about their business by inviting counsel to meet internal clients and business stakeholders, and keeping them abreast of key corporate initiatives and updates.
Clients must look for law firms that provide the best value. “Value” does not mean the firm with the lowest billable rates, but rather the firm which takes the time to understand their clients’ businesses, needs, and goals, and provides the most comprehensive and tailored services. Law firms can deliver value in many ways – improving operations, providing billing analytics, employing legal technology, and making strategic staffing choices. 75% of the clients interviewed mentioned that they get little-to-no help from their outside counsel in analyzing their legal work, including spending, trends, the lifecycle of litigation, etc. Clients can and should demand better project management services from their outside counsel.
So, as in-house counsel, what can you do to get out of the dark?
- Identify key attributes you are looking for in outside counsel, select carefully, and invest in those relationships.
- Find and create mutual learning opportunities, share knowledge, and collaborate as if you are part of the same organization.
- Before the beginning of an engagement, be upfront and specific about your company’s needs, goals, and budget for the matter.
- Ensure your outside counsel can provide quick and comprehensive visibility into all cases they are handling for you, with the frequency and format of your preference. Case management and matter management tools are available which provide immediate access to all stakeholders for this type of information, obviating the need for written memos with status updates and eliminating the “surprise” bill.
By identifying and communicating your budget, planning, and technology requirements, you can have a much better look at the work, progress, and process of your outside counsel.
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