Law firms and their clients need to be strategically aligned in terms of their priorities. In a perfect world, they should be working together to identify ways to deliver high quality, cost-effective, efficient, innovative legal services. This starts with proactive communication.
Below is an article I wrote for Law.com discussing the questions outside counsel should be asking their law firms.
Five Questions In-House Counsel Should Ask Their Law Firms
Year after year, surveys indicate that clients want their law firms to deliver transparency, metrics, efficiency, and clear communication—and that they are not receiving it.
As Ballard Spahr’s chief client value and innovation officer, I have made it my professional goal to close any gap that might exist between what clients want and what we are providing. Since 2018, our client value and innovation program (CVIP) has saved millions in fees and exceeded the expectations of numerous clients. I have had a great many discussions with clients about what they want and expect. From those conversations, I have gleaned five questions that every client should be able to ask of—and get an answer to from—its outside counsel.
How Will You Staff My Matter?
As the client, you should know who’s doing which element of your work. What you ought to look for here is a clearly articulated explanation for which team members were chosen and why, with the ultimate goal being a well-rounded balance of subject matter knowledge, legal experience, and cost. This kind of openness can also illustrate whether your firm is meeting your diversity goals.
Furthermore, you should find out which nonlawyer business professionals, if any, will be involved. We are always sure to mention how Ballard Spahr’s client value and innovation team members can leverage their collective internal knowledge, facility with data collection tools, and business acumen to help clients and our legal teams identify and solve real-world problems. That depth of experience helps give us a better understanding of our clients and the challenges they face.
What Sort of Communication Can We Expect?
One of the top pain points for clients is a lack of responsiveness from counsel (either real or perceived). Asking about communication at the start of a relationship sets expectations and helps clarify what is expected.
The members of our client value and innovation team have also found it helps to begin every new relationship with a conversation. That helps us understand a client’s business, including its needs, challenges, goals, and definition of success. Throughout each engagement—and after it ends—we track performance goals and seek feedback to ensure we are providing exceptional value and service. Our team can provide clients with 24/7 access to project status, budget, and billing information and our Ballard360 technology we developed in-house to facilitate easy review and exchange of documents and information.
As you can see, what’s worked for us is a combination of face-to-face level-setting and technology-enabled on-demand access to information.
What Sorts of Technology Will You Use to Deliver Value?
Legal knowledge and experience matter, of course, but so does the command of technology. That is because a client team that doesn’t make good use of technology isn’t maximizing the value of its knowledge and service to you.
The firm’s client value and innovation team can provide clients with 24/7 access to project status, budget, and billing information and uses our Ballard360 technology facilitate easy review and exchange of documents and information and generate automated documents. We also use technology to gather information and evaluate the many variables that drive cost. We then partner with clients to develop accurate cost projections and deliver customized pricing options and value-based fee arrangements—from hourly rates to a wide variety of AFAs—that align with their objectives and focus on results.
The bottom line: Technology should be part and parcel of your law firm’s service to you, not an “extra” or an exotic feature.
What Information Security Measures Do You Have in Place?
At the very minimum, your law firm should be able to articulate how it has met a third-party standard of information security. That third-party endorsement means the firm is not just giving itself a gold star—it has met a rigorous and thoughtfully constructed framework of security measures.
At Ballard Spahr, for example, we have been certified under ISO 27001, the premier global security standard. Certification requires a framework of processes and control specifications designed to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of client and firm information assets. We are also continually assessed by the Professional Evaluation and Certification Board to ensure that our information security system conforms to its strict requirements and evolves to address new threats and technologies.
How Will You Define Success?
As the client, you set the ultimate goal and decide if and when it is reached. What you are looking for with this question, though, is that your law firm understands there’s more to “success” than the stated end goal alone. Your law firm should be interested in learning your business priorities and what it can do to help you meet them. It should demonstrate a willingness to work with your budget considerations, and, after a matter has concluded, forecast what might be the most advantageous next steps. Above all, it should be willing to work with you on your terms—the truest definition of client service there is.