BigLaw leaders have many things to think about when guiding their firms to Top 100 finishes. One major item is the need to respond to client expectations of value. The idea that clients expect value in the legal services they buy is not a radical idea. As long as law firms have had clients, there has been an expectation by them that they are entitled to bang for their buck. But as BigLaw leaders and their clients will tell anyone willing to listen, the pursuit and assessment of value has become increasingly more sophisticated.
Today corporate clients and large law firms are communicating constantly about fee arrangements, pricing proposals and expectations of value. These discussions frequently go beyond the idea of adjusting rates downward, creating budgets, or constricting hours to be worked. Pricing proposal experts and legal operations professionals join together with client general counsels and law firm partners to arrive at a transparent approach that makes sense for client and firm. Indeed, corporate clients and BigLaw realize that finding an arrangement that satisfies both is essential to a long and lasting relationship. And while a one-sided deal might be a win for one party, it will only be so for the short-term.
Law firms smaller than BigLaw might not have the ability to hire pricing professionals and legal operations teams. Similarly, their clients may not have the infrastructure to provide sophisticated grading of legal services. But make no mistake, the key to law firm success, regardless of firm size, is the transparent delivery of value that clients recognize. So, law firms of any size should take a cue from their big brothers and sisters and think about the five following things:
The Value Proposition is a Pre-service Action Item. Before work gets started for the client, it is essential to focus on client expectations. Jumping into an engagement not knowing what the client wants substantively and financially is courting trouble. Blindly starting work is like embarking on an expedition through a jungle without an experienced guide.
Talking About Value Doesn’t Have to be Uncomfortable. Before getting started on a client matter a serious conversation about the elements that make up the client’s views on value should be had. Indeed, an unemotional talk about expectations shows your client that you are thoughtful and result oriented. It is a comfortable communication because it is welcomed. Compare that kind of dialogue to the one over already charged fees that are a multiple of what the client expected. Talk about uncomfortable.
The Payment of Your Fees May Not Represent a Good Report Card. Just because a client has paid your fees does not mean the client is satisfied. A client may not be confrontational, it might view the services unhappily but is ready to move on or may simply pay reflexively. But as time passes, that client may cool to the relationship and eagerly move on to another firm. It may be surprising, but the payment of a fee may be the beginning of passive/aggressive client behavior that portends trouble.
Value and Understanding Go Together. Closely aligned with the idea that value is a pre-action item, continually hearing from the client about its perception of the value received is the key to understanding client needs and guiding law firm behavior. Just because you had the “talk” with the client at the outset does not mean that you are done trying to understand the client’s substantive and financial expectations. Constant dialogue about value keeps you informed and makes the relationship a transparent one.
Value Means Repeat Business. If a client perceives that it is receiving value, it is less likely to try another law firm. Delivering value makes it hard for the client to move out of its comfort zone-the one provided by you. Moreover, the interactive process with the client that defines value likely will set your law firm apart from competitors. All of that makes repeat business more likely.
Many of the larger law firms are focusing on understanding the kind of value that clients recognize and appreciate. Even though BigLaw may be leading in this realm, understanding the value equation is not a function of law firm size. Is your firm, whatever its size, proactively working with its clients in search of that win/win solution?