And the Survey Says: What Clients Want

Friday, July 17, 2015 - 12:38

Our readers, mainly general counsel and their in-house colleagues, may be the most probed, prodded, poked and petitioned cohort since the Royal Family. From BTI to ACC to Corporate Counsel to Acritas to KPMG to Inside Counsel to Consero to Chambers to scores of feedback-hungry law firms (and their enabling consultants) to . . . well, it’s a wonder corporate counsel ever get a lick of work done.

Every year brings a new, broader round of surveys purporting to get at the $64,000 question: What do clients want? We’re as curious as the next person, but also curious about just who is answering these surveys. We plan to ask our readers just that and will report back on what we learn. Until then, below is a roundup from the latest sweep of the in-house mind.

I want lawyers who know their stuff . . .

Expertise is table stakes. Good luck getting into the game without it. Maybe you can fake it till you make it, but then again, maybe not. I’m in the driver’s seat now. I have lots of choices. If I want an expert, I’ll get an expert. And I want an expert.

and care more about me than themselves . . .

BTI calls it “client focus,” and it’s worth more than in-the-money stock options. It’s a little hard to describe. It’s a client-first-last-and-only attitude that manifests itself in services sharply tailored to meet my unique needs. You know it when you see it.

and know me and my business better than I know myself . . .

Not quite table stakes, but close. How do I trust you with my business if you don’t know my business? I’m not in the litigation business, or the compliance business, or the M&A business. I’m in the shipping business, the sports business, the software business. Got it? Get it.

and whose firms are solid, broad, deep and respected . . .

I’m always being asked, “Do you hire the lawyer or the law firm?” Both. I hire the lawyer first, but the firm matters, too. Maybe I’ll throw a second-tier regional wannabe a litigation bone to get them to stop pitching me. But for the big, risky stuff I need a great lawyer with a great team from a great firm.

and who can help me navigate complexity and enterprise risk . . .

It’s a jungle out there. Sorry, poor metaphor. Jungles are shrinking. This one is metastasizing. Guiding a global enterprise safely through this regulatory thicket is an all-day-all-night journey with no end. One ill-timed misstep and my company – not to mention my career – are teetering. Here, second best is dead last.

and understand what we mean when we say “value” . . .

It’s code, stupid. It means no hourly billing (or, if you absolutely must, at jaw-dropping discounts), cost certainty, well-honed budgets, efficient communications, lean-and-mean staffing, diverse teams, excellent results, quick-as-a-cat responsiveness, real industry insight, free CLE, free help (a/k/a secondments), free research, free project management, free advice, no overpaid, under-baked first-year associates, and help getting my kid into that snooty pre-school. And that’s just the short list.

and quit trying to sell me stuff I don’t need . . .

Want me to meet your shiny new lateral with the slick FCPA chops? Of course! Delighted to meet her. (Not really. I’m being polite.) It seems odd, though, that you don’t have a clue that we’ve never had an FCPA matter, don’t anticipate any FCPA matters, and are not in the market for whatever prophylactic FCPA services you’re peddling.

and know my role has changed for the better . . .

I’m at the table now. I’m no longer the naysayer, the roadblock, the cost center, the profit drag, the party pooper. The board values my input on business strategy. It’s not just law anymore. It’s new plants, new products, new markets, new revenue streams. It’s P&Ls, R&D, EBITDA, and . . . phew. Help!

and the worst . . .

We face new regulatory risks daily. There’s fraud, anticorruption, bribery, and regulatory-related investigations and litigation. There’s the dark shadow of data hacks looming over us. And there’s local regulators, state regulators, federal regulators, foreign regulators, intergalactic regulators – all ready to pounce. In the face of it all, my board, my CEO, my CFO all want us to do more with less. It’s “a vicious circle of regulatory and litigation risk,” as one GC put it.

and adjust to the new reality that suddenly we’re competitors . . .

I finally got sick of it. Firms know their model is outmoded and that something has to give and they do . . . nothing. You leave me no choice. I’m moving my work . . . to me. I’m flirting with alternative providers (even dating a few), bulking up my team and my tech, embracing project management, and giving up on you for all but the big stuff. I appreciate the ballgames, but . . . there’s always StubHub.

and, finally, pave the way for me to succeed — even at your expense.

My department is no longer a lifestyle choice. I need lawyers with a broad skillset, including fundamental business skills and market knowledge that allows them to bring a business perspective to legal issues. I know it’s unfair, but I need your help undermining your business.

Now that’s value.

 

Joe Calve, a former editor, publisher and columnist for ALM, leads business development, marketing and communications for an Am Law 100 law firm.