June 5, 2014

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Industry Outlook: Legal

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Industry Outlook: Legal

June 5, 2014

BATEMAN: We’ve had to sever our relationship with a number of clients because they started asking terms that we just couldn’t make money on. They were demanding so many things that we couldn’t justify doing because it wasn’t economically feasible. We’ve actually made the conscious decision to lose some clients because they were negative on profitability.

ANDERSON: One advantage when you deal with clients in a particular industry is you can learn a lot about the industry, a lot about the client, a lot about their competitors. And you try to look at the world from their point of view. You try to understand their objectives, what they’re trying to accomplish through the litigation or through the transaction, learn as much as you can about their industry, their needs, their wants, and then you try to be the one to step in and handle that situation for them when it comes up.

JENSEN: We’ve talked a lot about trying to involve younger lawyers with clients, and it’s good for the growth of any firm. You want to have your young people involved with clients, but a lot of clients don’t want to pay for the young lawyers—they view that as training that they are financing. They want the older lawyers with more experience that can get right to the problem and solve it, even though they cost more per hour.

Some clients are just the opposite. They freak out at a high billing rate and they say, “Somebody else can do this for less.” You have to learn how to read the client, know what they need, communicate with them and staff it correctly. Hopefully you can hit that middle ground of optimization, where you’ve got some senior experience but some younger energy and innovations.

DAVIES: We’ve found that it often makes sense for us to invite the clients to participate to a greater extent than in the past. So a lot of times the clients have in-house expertise that they can offer toward the process, whether it be transactional or litigation, and that assistance produces a better result. Ultimately, what we want to do is help the client understand that if there’s mutual trust and mutual participation in the process, they can get a better result.

CLYDE: One thing we try to do in terms of client management is foster the communication. We drill into our young lawyers that you don’t go home at night without every phone call returned, or at least an email acknowledging the call came in, and I’ll get back to you tomorrow, I’ve been tied up.

The other thing we tell them is if a client’s calling you, you’ve made a mistake, because you haven’t communicated enough with them that you’re causing them to be anxious about your attention to their business. Even if you send them an email saying nothing’s happened this week, that’s better than no communication at all.

JARVIS: We focus on certain industries that we know we’re really strong in, and we use non-lawyer assistants in our firm to do research, to understand what’s going on in the trends of those industries so that we can be more informed about what problems our clients are facing or what they will face and be prepared to help them find solutions for that.

I hear reports that $7 billion in legal service are going outside the United States. We see startup online law firms that have no offices. What are we doing to maintain the market?

JENSEN: I’m not sure there’s a lot you can do to control that. Those are things that are going to happen one way or the other. And I’m sure they have some effect in drawing clients away from traditional law firms. In my view, retaining clients, working hard to keep good client relationships is probably the one thing that you do have control over.

We’ve got a couple of clients that we’ve invited to come to the firm and talk to us about what they do. They manufacture something. They mine something. And they’re thrilled about that. They come, they talk, they bring samples. We invite the staff. We have lunch together. And it just builds loyalty. The firm buys into their product, they buy into the firm. For a client like that, they’re not going to think about going someplace else, hopefully. The one thing that you can do is just take care of the clients you have instead of worrying about other people drawing away the work from you.

HULSE: The key is the relationships. Frank Snell, one of our founding partners, was famous for saying, “These are not my clients, they’re my friends.” That was really important to him. So it’s become very important, as part of our culture, to maintain those relationships. And that involves a lot more than just doing the work and billing the time.

BURTON: Because of the access our clients have to information, two things are really going away: the routine commodity work, the document generation, as well as providing answers to questions that you can just get by looking for the information on the internet.

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