'Significant disconnect' exists between large law firms and clients
Lawyers must make their clients feel valued and protected, says academic
A new report has found evidence of a 'significant disconnect' between large law firms and their clients. But while both lawyers and clients seem to be aware of the disconnect, their interpretations of the magnitude and underlying causes differ.
Research, conducted in partnership between LexisNexis UK and the University of Cambridge, suggests many clients are making moves away from larger law firms for a variety of reasons.
One-quarter of clients surveyed mentioned moves to bring more of the business in-house. Several others were willing to seek non-traditional solutions. Others still have begun working with smaller firms that offer greater flexibility, visibility, and responsiveness compared to the top-50 law firms.
Clients have an expectation of law firms offering solutions to their business problems. However, 40 per cent said senior partners appeared to lack more than a basic knowledge of their business.
In response, one partner suggested that firms are only there to provide advice; it is for the client to decide how to convert advice into solutions.
'The view of the clients is entirely different and they do not see any perceptible change in the size of the disconnect,' the report said. 'Not a single client interviewed was satisfied with what law firms provide.'
Three-quarters of clients said they received little help from law firms when analysing the legal work given to them, including spends, trends, and lifecycle of cases.
'Many general counsel emphasised that their budgets remain under sustained cost pressure and yet when they look to law firms to provide better value, they are utterly underwhelmed with the response.'
Several clients described their partnerships with firms as 'superficial' and more than one said their voice is 'deliberately' not communicated to the wider firm as to do so would be 'expensive and time consuming'.
Mark Smith, market development director at LexisNexis, said: 'The pace of evolution in the legal profession is unprecedented and although many of these changes are client driven, it seems based on this research that the client voice is still not being heard loudly enough within the firm.
'It suggests that law firms need to improve their ability to work in a joined-up manner, focus on identifying opportunities that create mutual value, and start working harder at putting client relationships at the heart of everything they do.'
Kishore Sengupta, reader in operations at Cambridge Judge Business School, said firms need to rethink their core client strategies. 'To succeed in the current climate, lawyers need to be more than just great lawyers '“ they need to understand their clients' businesses more deeply.
'Lawyers now need to implement clear strategies to manage client relationships, moving beyond pragmatic engagements to providing a sense of partnership where the client feels valued and protected. Done well, such an approach will support firms in winning over their clients.'