In every meeting with clients, partners and vendors in the last two months, someone has noted that 2017 was a long year. Many nod in agreement—they are excited to turn the page and begin a fresh chapter.
But if we don’t learn lessons from the past, we’re bound to repeat them.
Now is the perfect time to reflect on the past year, to take lessons from the good, the bad, and the ugly, and to create a better and brighter 2018.
Chief legal officers are under a lot of pressure, but by providing exactly what they’re looking for, you can win legal work that might otherwise go to other firms. Here, we’ll go over four ways to improve your firm for the year, based on a few important things that CLOs are looking for from their outside counsel, according to Altman Weil’s 2017 Chief Legal Officer Survey.
1. Take time for a retrospective
Review your wins and losses, and look at what needs to change to make your practice more efficient and profitable in the new year.
For example, taking a close look at how your firm interacts with clients can help you acquire and retain more of them. If you work with large, corporate clients, providing good client service and running a professional, efficient operation can help you win work that might otherwise be kept in-house or sent to other firms.
Case in point: According to Altman Weil, 48.3% of CLOs have shifted matters worth $50,000+ away from a firm because of client service issues; 28.3% have moved work because of matter management issues.
Start your retrospective by asking these questions:
- What did clients and staff rave about this year?
- What did clients and staff complain about the most?
- What were the biggest wins and why?
- What were your biggest regrets and why?
- Could you tweak processes, systems, or communications to make workflows easier, cut costs, or increase productivity?
- What marketing and business development efforts were most successful and how can you amplify them? Which should you get rid of?
- Can you improve on your billing and collections to bring more revenue in the door or reduce account aging?
It can be painful (particularly to perfectionists) to examine client complaints, missed opportunities, and unpaid invoices. Still, these situations can help you focus on which areas of your practice need the most improvement.
For example, if CLOs find your client intake process cumbersome and confusing, consider looking at ways to improve it.
If you’re struggling with late payments, consider accepting credit cards—the 2017 Legal Trends Report found that firms that accept credit card payments get paid 39% faster, and that 28% of consumers want to pay for legal services by credit card.
2. Work with clients to ease budget concerns
Corporate clients are under significant pressure to get more value out of their legal spend with outside counsel.
Over 80% of CLOs surveyed by Altman Weil in 2017 required a budget for a significant legal matter. 78.8% provide specific guidelines for billing, expenses, matter staffing and management with nearly 60% enforcing those guidelines with outside counsel.
When looking at the service provided by outside counsel, CLOs surveyed listed the top areas for improvement as:
- Improved budget forecasting (46.2%).
- More efficient project management (29.9%)
- More efficient project staffing (28.6%)
- Improved communication and responsiveness (20.1%)
- Technology efficiencies (12.0%).
If you’re not having budgeting and forecasting conversations with your clients now, they’re likely looking for counsel who will.
Consider how historical information and technology (more below) can help you with more effective budget forecasting, project management, and communication. Initiating these conversations and taking time to budget properly (and early) can deepen your relationship with clients and build trust—making them more likely to send you work again and again.
3. Invest in technology
Nearly 10% of CLOs demanded a defined level of technical proficiency from their outside counsel, and 12% listed technology efficiencies as one of the top three improvements they are seeking from firms according to Altman Weil’s survey.
In other words, corporate clients increasingly expect the law firms they work with to use technology to maintain budgets, track matter progress, and manage documents. If you’re not using tech that could be making their lives easier (and your firm more efficient) they may take their business elsewhere.
How do you start bringing more technology into your firm? Begin by examining existing workflows, and ask where technology could complement or optimize them. For example, Washington-based Palace Law consistently reviews and optimizes its client intake process, and has seen its revenues increase as a result.
Also, listen to what clients are requesting that you don’t already offer—could the right tech solutions help you to provide what they seek?
For example, a tool that gives clients transparency into your progress could allow clients to get the information they want, when they want it (and it could save you an hour a day of email and phone tag). A practice management platform like Clio that eases time tracking and invoicing could help you give clients the accurate insight into their legal spend that they’re looking for.
Finally, talk to your peers to see where others are finding value and using technology to compete (and win) against larger firms. With solutions that let you send texts from your business number, or log time just by talking to Amazon Alexa, there are plenty of options you may not have even thought of yet.
That said, it’s important to do your homework. There are a variety of tools available on the market, so assess your options—and more importantly, assess whether adding a given tool will truly improve your practice.
4. Consider external resources to make your firm scalable
Gone are the days when successful businesses tried to do everything in-house, and law firms are no exception. Working with flexible legal professionals can expand your expertise and create ‘just in time’ efficiencies that let you compete and win against larger firms.
According to Altman Weil, 20% of CLOs cite more efficient project staffing as one of their three top areas for improvement when working with outside counsel. One-fifth have moved a significant matter or matters to another firm because of lack of size or depth of firm resources. 9% have switched because of a firm’s inability to handle the client’s geographic scope.
Consider where using outsourced talent can help you provide better and more efficient client service while expanding your firm’s capacity, practice area expertise, and geographical scope.
Don’t limit your use of external resources to lawyers either—paralegals, patent agents, document reviewers, legal assistants, and administrative assistants can also help you take care of administrative tasks and other duties so that you can focus on the most high value work. You’ll do your best, and corporate clients will be more likely to retain you again and again.
At Hire an Esquire our annual retrospective and planning process incorporates many of these principles. It’s a time of laughing, bonding, brushing the dirt off our own and one another’s shoulders, and ultimately where we get our best and most exciting ideas.
We hope that you find this process as useful as we do, and that you have a happy and prosperous 2018.
Hire an Esquire chooses from over 6,000 vetted, on-demand legal professionals to find the perfect fit for your needs. Learn more about Hire an Esquire in the Clio App Directory.
Julia Shapiro is an attorney turned Founder and CEO of Hire an Esquire—which helps law firms and in-house legal departments connect with the right verified and vetted legal professionals instantly through a technology platform that employs comprehensive data-driven candidate profiling and predictive behavioral analytics.
Hire an Esquire was inspired by her experience practicing law and observing the rapidly changing dynamics of the legal industry—attorneys needed alternate career tracks and employers needed an on-demand legal workforce.
Julia has been named to LinkedIn’s Next Wave as a Top 10 Legal Innovators and to the FastCase 50, and has also served as an adjunct law professor and legal industry subject matter expert.