It might sound clichéd, but communication is key to successful client/outside counsel relationships. Strong communication should exist from the Request for Proposal (RFP) to invoicing and throughout the life cycle of the relationship. Client frustration is seldom the result of a single isolated incident. More often, it results from a series of issues arising from poor communication. Nothing puts your clients in a worse position than having to explain an issue to their CEO or CFO that easily could have been avoided.
Nothing puts your clients in a worse position than having to explain an issue to their CEO or CFO that easily could have been avoided.
Below are some tips on how clients and outside counsel can communicate in more meaningful ways during the scoping and RFP processes, and through the use of extranets.
Setting Expectations and Using Scope Management
At the start of each matter, it is important for outside counsel and the client (“the parties”) to discuss, agree to, and document the specifics of the engagement. If the parties discuss the scope of activities and document their assumptions, they can proactively address issues that inevitably will arise. Up-front communication also can prevent the parties from feeling blindsided.
Let’s say that the terms of an engagement assume that outside counsel will perform four witness interviews. However, as the case progresses, it becomes necessary to perform two additional witness interviews. If the parties properly document the scope of work at the outset, outside counsel then can record the time spent conducting additional interviews as being out of scope. This approach provides the parties the opportunity to discuss and agree upon an appropriate adjustment to the arrangement. Similarly, in the event that only two interviews are required, the parties can apply a credit or other adjustment.
You get the point: if the parties agree upon and document terms at the outset, it’s much easier to negotiate fee arrangement modifications when out of scope issues arise. This is a win-win for both parties.
The Devil is in the Details—of the RFP
Unintentional miscommunication often arises during the RFP process. RFPs that set forth the client’s goals and expectations in a clear and detailed way are the easiest method for facilitating responses from outside counsel. Understandably, the client may not yet have detailed information about the scope of work when the RFP is issued. However, it’s important for the client to acknowledge this point and discuss its intention regarding pricing, especially if the client wants an alternative fee arrangement. Otherwise, when responding to the RFP, outside counsel have to extrapolate detailed assumptions about what will happen in a legal matter. These assumptions may or may not be accurate, and they can limit outside counsel’s ability to be creative and forward-thinking in terms of the pricing offered. Assumptions also make it difficult for the client to evaluate proposals received from multiple law firms, as the firms may use different assumptions, limiting the client’s ability to make apples-to-apples comparisons.
Sometimes the terminology used in RFPs is confusing. It’s important to include clear definitions to facilitate understanding for all parties. For example, one of the most widely and inconsistently used terms in legal pricing is “fixed rate.” This term often is used interchangeably with “fixed fee,” which is a single fee offered for a matter or task. In other instances, however, the term relates to an hourly rate that is applicable for the duration of the matter or when the project relates to a blended rate by title.
If clients provide adequate detail during the RFP process when outside counsel proactively ask for clarification of certain terms, it’s a positive experience for everyone—most importantly for the clients. They are likely to receive more thoughtful and detailed responses that they can use to select the right outside counsel to handle the work.
The Case for Client Extranets
As the legal world becomes more advanced and mobile, legal technology that is customized to meet client communication needs is essential. Cloud-based extranet sites promote better client/outside counsel communication and collaboration during the life of a matter or matters and offer the added benefit of increased efficiency and productivity.
As the legal world becomes more advanced and mobile, legal technology that is customized to meet client communication needs is essential.
In response to client needs for increased communication, Ballard Spahr developed ClientConnect, a proprietary client-facing extranet solution included in our Ballard360 technology suite. ClientConnect provides a secure and central location for legal teams to automate documents, share information, track tasks, edit and view documents, and manage all related materials in real time. When a client requires information, a document, or the status of a matter, they can find it on the extranet site. Each site is highly customized to meet the client’s specific needs.
Please continue to follow the Ballard360 Insider blog to learn about ways in which clients and law firms can collaborate to understand needs, expectations, and price matters using matter management and technology to achieve success.