Posted by: johnocunningham | February 9, 2012

10 Legal Service Tips from Clients

After reading in recent months many comments from law firm clients about their top legal service “hot buttons,” I thought it might be helpful to share a top 10 synopsis with readers of my blog.

What follows is a list of service concerns expressed in “first person” language that I think is similar to or identical to that used by clients who have volunteered their opinions on legal service generally. Here it is – in the first person voice of the client:

1. Know my industry and know my business. Lots of lawyers know the law. Not all of them understand how to apply it to my business or use it to my advantage. Do this and you can win more assignments from me. By the way, this is my number one complaint – as a client – about lawyers. They do not make the effort to really understand my industry or my business. If I have a five percent profit margin, I have to sell $1 million of product to pay for a $50,000 legal bill.

2. Be very responsive. That means not only returning calls or emails within the same day (if only to say you are tied up and will respond within X time) but also being responsive to the actual questions posed to you. If you don’t know the answer, just say so, and don’t tell me everything you do know on the subject matter in question.

3. Be clear and concise. Written communications should be one page, or if they relate to very complex matters, should have an executive bullet point summary that is as brief as possible. Our business might involve literally hundreds or even thousands of management decisions every day. I value lawyers who can get to the point. (Point of information: many CEOs say they will not even try to read something that is more than one page).

4. Act like a partner in my business if you want to be treated like one. I value partners who are “invested” in my business outcomes. That could translate into value-billing, project-based billing or even putting some skin in the game, and it can mean sharing some upside too (stock or bonuses, etc). But it particuarly means that you should use your understanding of my industry and my business to anticipate problems and opportunities. As a business partner, don’t wait to be asked for input. Show me there is a new way to use the law to my protection or advantage and I will hire you to do it.

5.  Provide recommendations and not just analysis. I want someone who can add the value of their experience by arguing for a particular course of action. I might not always follow it, but I definitely don’t want to hear from a two-handed lawyer who always says: “on the one hand X, on the other hand Y.” A legal memo that just covers butts is of no value at all to me.

6. Use technology and process improvement to deliver legal products and services better, faster and smarter. I have to do that in my business to reduce operating costs and improve both speed and quality. If I don’t, I am out of business. Show me that you can work effectively with the latest technologies to expedite e-discovery, do legal research, manage large scale projects, or execute on other tasks, and I will have more work to send to you.

7. Be candid and be honest. If you make a mistake, let us know early so we can correct it or mitigate the damage. Don’t lowball estimates and don’t just tell me what you think I want to hear. This can be especially deadly for a public company that has full disclosure reporting obligations to shareholders.

8. Don’t tell me you can’t do a budget or projection for a complex legal matter. If I can do a pro forma for my investors on a multi-billion dollar project involving multiple parties, possible business interruptions related to global risks and a host of other variables, then you can do a litigation forecast.

9. Talk to your own partners and learn at least enough from them so that you are giving professional advice in full context. I don’t expect one lawyer to know everything about everything, but I need my principal contact to be able to identify those occassions when I might need more than one expert to assist me. You should know better than I when a transaction might involve issues related to intellectual property, environmental hazards, and securities disclosures all at the same time.

10. Be conscious of providing value for the dollars invested in your service. Strive to give me a great return on my investment, just as I do for my shareholders. Don’t always shoot for perfection. My business is not an academic exercise. You can disclose the risks of shallow scrutiny on some projects vs. others. But you cannot expect to double my costs on a project due to legal fees and have me remain in business.

Those are the typical “hot buttons” of a client, expressed in pure and unvarnished language. If you can deal with every one of them, you can probably get a lot more business from every client  !

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