The customer may not always be right. But she is still the customer.
This is clear from the recent Chief Legal Officer Survey from Altman Weil and Lexis Nexis. Your humble correspondent was recently interviewed about this survey in the latest issue of Legal Industry Insight, published by Lumen Legal. A reprint of the interview is available here.
The stark reality of the survey for me is on page 7, in the response to the question “What steps have outside counsel taken to improve the working relationship with your Law Department?” A full 40% said “None.”
My take on that in the interview:
â€œFirms and relationship partners need to have an ongoing dialogue with CLOs and key managing counsel. This provides a foundation for being proactive about finding solutions,â€ says John Wallbillich, founder and CEO of Lexvista Partners, a legal advisory firm. â€œOnce you improve your communications with clients, bringing forward ideas to improve services or offering topical training to in-house counsel will distinguish a firm from the 40 percent who are doing nothing right away.
â€œI think there a lot of CLOs who would fall off their chairs if a law firm came to them with unsolicited cost-savings or best practice ideas.â€
The point here is not the exact percentage. It is the perception that exists, in almost half of the CLOs surveyed, that law firms are essentially taking the client for granted.
Lumen Legal CEO David Galbenski is clearly one who gets this, and has been a first mover in providing options for firms to take a closer look at how they deliver services and consider unbundling some strategically:
â€œLaw firms that do that get more business because they build trust with their client. They show that their firm is doing what is in the best interest of the corporation they represent. It will ultimately get them more work and lead to greater profitability, even though they initially â€˜gave awayâ€™ some margin by bringing in contract help.â€
In a time of record profits for many firms, it’s understandable to be wary of doing anything to stop the music. Sooner or later, I expect, many clients will start to change their tune.
Update (28 Sept 07): New Conde Nast magazine Portfolio also takes a kick at the can of outside counsel.