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Economic Uncertainty Is Changing Clients' Expectations
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Client Trends

Economic Uncertainty Is Changing Clients’ Expectations

Unexpected and counterintuitive changes signal opportunity for law firms.

By Michael Rynowecer

Clients of all sizes are facing the most uncertainty and risk they have seen in quite a while, according to the Economic Policy Uncertainty Index. This uncertainty is generating new, complex work and is changing clients’ expectations of law firms and lawyers.

Meeting these new expectations means the difference between getting hired and not.

Change and Opportunity for Law Firms: Bring Your A+ Game

The BTI Consulting Group’s independent research, based on more than 350 in-depth interviews with corporate counsel, reveals the following changes with the most impact on law firms:

  • Smart and savvy trumps lean and mean. Clients may negotiate your rates down — after they decide you bring the smartest, most practical and informed approach at whatever rate you put on the table (as long as it doesn’t break the barrier for premium rates). Don’t confuse a rate negotiation with a client’s buying price. This is no time to go cheap. Clients are paying up and paying premiums.
  • Clients expect firms to take the lead on talking about how to manage uncertainty. Clients expect you to discuss contingency plans, indicate how things can go wrong, and delineate what other legal actions might arise.
  • Clients are auditioning new law firms. BTI research shows only 38 percent of law firms earn an unprompted recommendation from a client. Client service is the single largest driver behind the coveted unprompted recommendation. Law firms that don’t earn a recommendation are rarely invited back for the big, complex issues. Clients are hunting for the firms that embrace client service along with complexity. Use any lead as an invitation to big-time work — and bring your A+ game. The stakes are bigger than they look.
  • Interest in alternative fees is surging. Clients are paying more for the new, complex work — leaving less money for other work. They are revisiting AFAs as a source of savings to fund the new, complex matters.
  • Complex work is officially a growth market. BTI research shows new, complex matters are now growing about 6 percent a year. This means you don’t have to steal that work away from someone else, but you still have to convince a skeptical client to hire you. Not easy, but a touch easier than convincing a client to fire a firm and hire you.
  • Clients have smaller staffs and need more help from outside counsel. The typical large company is down by two in-house lawyers. Smaller clients have even less internal staff, if they have any. Now is the perfect time for secondments (despite the risk of losing an associate). It is also the perfect time to establish an ongoing, informal dialogue with your clients. Check in to see what has changed. Ask about changing management pressures and concerns, and how their other matters are going. Establish a connection. Informal communication is the path to understanding.

Your client’s uncertain world offers a rare opportunity to discuss substance and help with the meaty matters you went to law school for.

Seize the opportunity to help while the need — and expectation — is there (before the world becomes a more certain place again).

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Michael Rynowecer

Michael Rynowecer is the President and Founder of The BTI Consulting Group. He has been conducting client feedback and analyzing the legal market for 30 years. Michael blogs at www.themadclientist.com. Follow him on Twitter @BTIConsulting.

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