I recommend you point your partners to this blog. I'm attending the conference on Conducting Client Interviews by Northstar Conferences at the LeMeridien Hotel in Chicago. Allen Chichester, the CMO of Piper Rudnick in Chicago just played at 13-minute videotape that showed focus groups of clients the firm held in 8 cities in 2002. It was compelling.
The focus group participants were 80 purchaser of legal services -- clients and prospects in large organizations with $500+ million in revenue. Half were firm clients; half were prospects. The firm gave attendees lunch and $200 for their participation. They did not identify the firm as the sponsor of the focus group. The research was conducted by Mark Greene of The Brand Research Company.
Following are quotes from actual business executives speaking about the law firms they use:
* I want timely billing -- I routinely get invoices that are 6 to 9 months
* I want accurate billing -- I see things that are so obviously in the wrong bill. I shouldn't have to tell them who worked on what project.
* I want more detailed billings - particularly if more than one lawyer is working on the case. WE used to get bill that says "for services rendered: $35,000." I have stopped using several firms because they cannot give me the detail I wanted in their bills.
* I want flat fees, fixed fees, capped fees or other arrangements that do not reward inefficiency, which hourly billing does.
* I want them to train the lawyers before they send them to work on my files. What I have found at the big firms is that the associates weren't very good
* I talked to an associate who said, "I just spent 12 hours researching the issue." I asked, "Did you get an answer?" The associate said "no," but the firm sent the bill for 12 hours anyway. Until there's a complaint logged, the firm isn't going to do anything about it.
* I want someone to counsel us, not tell us what the case law is. I want an attorney wiling to make those risk judgments and tell us, "yes, you should do this deal." But most counsel just want to give legal advice.
* The income of lawyers has grown dramatically in recent years. At the same time the pressure has grown to bill a minimum monthly number of hours. It seems like the interest in the relationship has become 100% "what can I get from the client on this one." We see this all the time. The relationship is what we're looking for in a law firm, someone who values our business. I honestly think law firms are losing sight what the lawyer-client relationship is all about.
* Lawyers want to give you perfect legal advice for a perfect world. None of use is working in a perfect world. There has to be knowledge of our business and a sensitivity about how our company operates, so that the advice they're giving is something we can realistically achieve, and so they know what's important to you and what isn't.
* They need to understand our business a as well as we do, or otherwise we won't be interested in them.
* The relationship you value the most is the one that anticipates your needs. So if I have a law firm that's proactive not reactive - that is, they pick up the phone and tell me here's something that may be of value to you - it would knock me over with a feather.
* I never once had a partner call me up and ask me, "What did you think of my team's performance?"
* The lawyers I find valuable are those who share their business judgment
* We had several key class action lawsuits and I tried to find law firms to work on it. I called a senior employment lawyer at one of firms we used, and told him "I need somebody to explain the state industrial labor law, I don't' understand it." Two days later I got an 8- or 10-page long explanation of the law. We ended up hiring another firm that had a lawyer who explained the law to me over the phone.
* I want a law firm that will tell me up front "here's what I think it'll cost, here's what I think I can achieve." Managing expectations and being responsive is what I want.
* The law firm doesn't understand that you can get repeat business if you can get us in and out of a case more quickly.
* Law firms should have the long-term view. They won't make that much money in this particular matter, but I'll be appreciative if they get me out of a case quickly. They'll make it up many, many times over in the future.
* Lawyers lack business sense. They should look ahead 10 years, and not look ahead only 10 months. They should think, "If I do good work for Sara Lee, I'll still be working for them in 2008." Give me some pro bono work now and it'll pay off later.
* We're actually looking for something more profound - lawyers who don't sell us hours. Companies want to buy expertise, responsiveness and assurance. I don't care how long it takes the firm to do the work. At our company we're asking for something more profound.
Chichester played the 13-minute videotape at a partner retreat. "This tape gave us a way of helping our lawyers listen to what our clients were saying," Chichester said. "It isn't that hard to stand out if you can create a positive client culture -- the bar is set very low. The feedback was very consistent grout to group. It wasn't fancy, but they were issues that were important to clients."