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Thomas Evans

Senior Legal Operations Consultant, Norton Rose Fulbright

Quotation Marks
Law firms should provide clear and regular communication, ensuring clients understand their rationale behind advice and recommendations, billing practices, and pricing models

Fostering win-win client-counsel relationships in times of unprecedented change

Fostering win-win client-counsel relationships in times of unprecedented change


A 'back to basics' approach focusing on value, transparency, and partnership helps firms and clients navigate technological disruptions and align expectations for mutually beneficial relationships

The legal landscape is undergoing a period of unprecedented transformation. Technological disruptions like GenAI necessitate continuous adaptation for law firms. Clients expect firms to leverage these advancements for their benefit. However, organisations navigate change at varying speeds, leading to friction between clients with low risk tolerance and firms embracing cutting-edge solutions (or vice versa). This disparity widens the ‘expectation gap’ – what law firms believe they deliver and what clients anticipate receiving. Fostering win-win client-counsel relationships feels more challenging than ever.

However, a ‘back to basics’ approach, emphasising three core principles, empowers clients and counsel to navigate this complex landscape together. These principles – value, transparency, and partnership – create a foundation for mutually beneficial collaboration.

Focus on value

The cornerstone of a successful client-counsel relationship is a shared understanding of the client’s needs. This goes beyond the ‘what’ to the ‘why’. Law firms must delve into the underlying motivations driving decisions. Conversely, clients must articulate their goals with clarity. Poor communication with the business often means initial instructions are ambiguous, resulting in unclear project scope, misaligned expectations, and ultimately, higher costs (often followed by billing disputes).

If both parties define value at the outset, however, it helps avoid these problems.

For clients, this might necessitate taking a step back at the beginning of a matter. Ask yourself, have you been clear with the law firm on the context of the instruction and where the value to the business really lies? What is actually important? Is speed or comprehensiveness the priority? Do you want options, or practical advice on what to do next?

Before you even consider these questions, ask whether you have spent enough time with the business to understand what is valuable to them. Time pressures are an unavoidable fact of in-house life, and it can make conversations at the outset difficult to justify. However, a fifteen-minute conversation to clarify expectations can save significant time and cost later.

For law firms, don’t be afraid to push back in the early stages to clarify where the value lies. It is your job to help the in-house team look good, and delivering value to the business is how they achieve this.

You should also reflect that value in the way you are working. Time has long been a metric not just for management within law firms, but also for pricing. However, almost no client will tell you that the value lies in the time you spend. Instead, think about what you can do to deliver the real value efficiently and effectively. If speed is king, consider offering a reduced scope to minimise turnaround time. If simplicity is important, can you present your advice in an easily understandable, visual format instead of a memo?


Open communication is paramount. Law firms should provide clear and regular communication, ensuring clients understand their rationale behind advice and recommendations, billing practices, and pricing models. This fosters trust and allows for open discussion.

Conversely, clients should be clear regarding their budgets, desired outcomes, and expectations. This clarity allows firms to provide relevant advice and avoid mismatched objectives.

Feedback should be a two-way street. Clients should openly communicate areas for improvement without fear of jeopardising the relationship. Similarly, law firms have a duty to constructively address any challenges or roadblocks originating from the client-side. This honest, transparent communication is vital for building and maintaining a strong partnership.

For clients, being up front about what you expect from law firms is critical. This means being clear on your expected scope, timeline and budget for matters, as well as what qualities and behaviours you value in your law firms more generally.

This also means providing feedback, both on a matter and relationship level. Again, time pressure can make justifying this difficult. However, unless your firms know what is and is not working well, the service you receive is unlikely to improve. Feedback helps your firms to operate in a way that works for you, and it will save time in the long run.

For law firms, firstly, don’t be worried about asking for feedback proactively. There is an assumption that asking for feedback might place a burden on your client and alienate them, but by being clear you are trying to improve their experience, you only risk being ignored or told no. If you do get a response, you have gained valuable direction on how to improve your relationship.

You can also promote transparency in your pricing. Naturally, working on a billable hour may limit your options for providing visibility of spend against budget, and although some projects lend themselves to working on this basis, it can make it difficult to link price to value. Exploring alternative pricing models and ensuring regular, transparent reporting may support the client to put a clearer price on value.

Finally, LPM (legal project management) remains an excellent tool for improving transparency. A good methodology ensures regular updates on scope, budget and timeline, offering clients full visibility. Even if you can’t justify a dedicated project manager on a matter, consider deploying one at a client level to help with a portfolio of matters, or training your lawyers on using LPM practices.

Partnership and long-term collaboration

The ideal client-counsel relationship is not transactional. It fosters a collaborative, long-term partnership. This manifests as co-creation, where both parties work together to develop strategies and solutions. Law firms become an extension of the client's team, providing not only legal expertise but also strategic guidance. By aligning incentives, both parties are more invested in achieving a successful outcome.

For clients, sharing information about your organisation’s wider initiatives, values and longer-term goals can help identify opportunities to align or collaborate with your law firms, who might be making similar efforts.

It is also important to stay in touch. Regular touchpoints, for example, quarterly or biannually, make it easier to foster a shared understanding of value, improve transparency, and operate together in an effective way.

For law firms, above all, it is about being proactive. When you truly understand your client and you see alignment with them on a particular topic, reach out with proposed initiatives, events, or non-legal thought leadership (eg on D&I, sustainability). Even if they don't take you up on it, this positions you as a partner.

Also, be clear about where you see opportunities, and honest about your limits. Where you see your client needs support and you have expertise – don’t wait for the client to ask. If you think you could support more in a particular region or practice area, be clear about this and provide a clear rationale. Even if you don’t get work straight away, there could be, for example, an opportunity for a secondment or value-added training session allowing you to build a relationship in that area. Equally, being honest about your capabilities will build credibility and trust, which, in the long term, can bring you more opportunities.


The legal industry is in the midst of unprecedented change. While technology and the ever-evolving business environment present challenges, they also offer tremendous opportunities for collaboration.

By embracing this ‘back to basics’ approach and focusing on the core principles of value-driven service, transparency, and partnership, both clients and counsel can bridge the expectation gap and cultivate win-win relationships.