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Financial Times study highlights mutual misunderstandings between law firms and their clients

According to a new report from the Financial Times and the Managing Partners Forum (MPF), law firms are failing to understand their clients’ needs, whilst significant gulfs in expectations risk straining the client/adviser relationship. Starkly illustrating this finding is the fact that whilst 75% of CEOs surveyed say they are primarily responsible for selecting a law firm, less than 5% of law firms surveyed see building links with C-level executives at their clients as important.

Entitled ‘Lessons for Law Firm Management’, the report is the result of a collaborative global research project by the Financial Times and the MPF. It is based upon a survey of partners and senior executives at 100 law firms and 333 clients (including many at C-level) and explores the effectiveness of the corporate relationship between law firms and their clients by comparing the views of both audiences across a range of common attributes. The full report and supporting materials can be downloaded free http://ftcorporate.ft.com/resources.

Other contrasts revealed by the research include:

  • 50% of clients consider the ability to solve problems quickly as the most important factor for a healthy client/adviser relationship. However, this is something that only a third of law firms regard as a top priority.

  • Clients consider a broad range of attributes when instructing law firms on complex work, including an understanding of the client’s industry, transparency in pricing and international expertise. By contrast, law firms believe their clients see the attributes in much narrower terms, overly focussing on legal expertise.

  • CEOs and Chairs are far more influential in selecting legal advisers than most firms appreciate. 75% of this audience described themselves as primarily responsible for selecting a law firm, compared with just 11% choosing general counsel. The C-Suite at clients is also seven times more likely than law firm management to regard C-Suite mutual engagement as an important factor in a healthy client/adviser relationship.

  • Firms have yet to fully embrace a digital world. While 46% of firm leaders agree that their firm is being encouraged to share its know-how with clients through non-traditional channels, more than 50% of clients consider law firms to be ineffective in their use of social media and over a third of clients say firms’ use of intranets, extranets and digital media is ineffective.

  • Neither firms nor clients see outsourcing as being a net benefit for the client/adviser relationship.

Simon Lord, Head of B2B Marketing, Financial Times, said: “Clients are looking for deeper, more strategic conversations and law firms could do more to understand the nature of each client’s business and its specific challenges.”

Sir Nigel Knowles, MPF Chair and joint CEO of law firm DLA Piper, commented: “This survey is a clear call to arms to management across all professional firms to get to know their equivalent at clients as part of a leadership strategy to shape the overall client experience.”

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About the report:

A New Dawn: Lessons for Law Firm Management in the Post-crisis World is a Financial Times report, produced in conjunction with the Managing Partners’ Forum. The report’s quantitative findings come from a survey of 433 respondents, of whom around 25% are partners or employees of law firms, and 75% are corporate clients of law firms. The survey was conducted in April 2011. The survey was global, with 60% of respondents from Europe, 30% from North America and the remainder from the rest of the world. The majority of the respondents were C-level, or board-level, executives. 54% of organisations had annual revenues of less than $10million, while 12% brought in over $10bn.

The coming together of the FT and MPF brands has resulted in the most comprehensive survey worldwide to tap into the views of CEOs at both law firms and clients. The approach adopted was to seek the views of clients on a range of attributes and then ask firms to predict the views of clients. This conjecture-based approach highlights areas of mutual misunderstanding and serves as an excellent proxy for the extent to which firms genuinely understand and are close to their clients. The outcome is a series of insights that should be invaluable in shaping management interventions to improve client service.

About the Financial Times: 

The Financial Times, one of the world’s leading business news organisations, is recognised internationally for its authority, integrity and accuracy. Providing essential news, comment, data and analysis for the global business community, the FT has a combined paid print and digital circulation of 605,402 (Deloitte assured, 3 January 2011 to 3 April 2011) and a combined print and online average daily readership of 2.1 million people worldwide (PwC assured, November 2010). FT.com has over 3.4 million registered users and 224,000 paying digital subscribers. The newspaper, printed at 24 print sites across the globe, has a global print circulation of 372,076 (ABC, April 2011). The FT has seen over 1 million downloads of its mobile and tablet apps.

About the Managing Partners’ Forum:

The Managing Partners’ Forum (www.mpfglobal.com) is the pre-eminent professional body representing those entrusted with leadership and management roles at professional firms. As management’s trusty companion, MPF provides tailored knowledge and interesting insights to help our members become more effective.

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