“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin
The Underrated Skill of Listening to Your Clients.
A few weeks ago, in October 2020, I had the opportunity to interview @Greg Lambert, Chief Knowledge Services Officer at Jackson Walker, on a podcast entitled “Separating True Innovation from Hype”. We had a very exciting conversation on how truly innovative law firms can differentiate themselves by delivering value and enhancing customer satisfaction.
One of the things I asked Greg to comment on was how law firms can foster innovation to meet the actual needs of their clients and he addressed this topic reinforcing something he has been saying for a long time: that “all problems are communication problems”. Far from sounding cliché and vaguely stating that you have to listen to your clients, Greg gave us a practical approach on how to do it effectively. He mentioned that, many times, talking to the clients doesn’t mean, necessarily, a conversation between inside counsel and outside counsel. “Not everything that needs improvement requires a lawyer to do it”, he said.
When I stopped to think about it, I recalled that one of the reasons that made me transition to Knowledge Management was when, as a practicing attorney, I started to visit some clients and figured out that being simply good at practicing law doesn't necessarily make clients happy. Clients are dealing with business problems that would be better solved if looked at from different perspectives (other than the law itself).
Having support staff - both from the client side as well as from the law firm - talking to each other is a great way to provide a clear understanding of the client’s actual pain points as well as the solutions available to tackle them based on the capabilities of the firm's resources. This leads to aligning expectations between parties, yielding stronger ties and delivering better service.
Collaboration Done Right: Easier Said Than Done?
Before you jump into conclusion that successful collaboration between law firms and clients is easier said than done, take a look at some real cases of law firms that collaborated with their clients to drive innovation, increase efficiency, reduce cost, streamline processes and, ultimately, deliver greater value in a way that benefits everyone.
My initial idea to approach this topic was by inviting law firms and legal departments that have developed successful partnerships to share their stories in a virtual round table. However, as the year came to an end, schedules began to tighten up and we weren’t able to find a suitable time slot. Therefore, I decided to compile a few success cases that have gone public recently, so that you can get inspired to do so.
How a Combo Team of Law Firms Managed to Work Together and Win Microsoft’s Legal Business Design Challenge.
One of the reasons why law firms usually fail to collaborate with their client is because they assume that clients don't know what they want. But here is a great example that some customers are quite capable of verbalizing precisely what they expect from outside counsel. In this case, Microsoft went an extra mile and, in early 2020, challenged its strategic legal service providers to think differently about the provision of legal services, efficiency, technology, and to help the company do more with less.
Eleven providers answered the challenge and the winners were announced during Microsoft’s Trusted Advisor Forum on Innovation webinar on 17 June 2020: the trio of Greenberg Traurig, Perkins Coie and Davis Wright Tremaine, and the pitch by K&L Gates.
It was mentioned during the event that the trio’s submission stood out for inclusiveness, specifically for including both lawyers and other legal professionals. It was also interesting to see three firms coming together to focus on the client’s objectives, putting aside any competitive considerations.
Bobby Rosenbloum, chairman of Greenberg Traurig’s entertainment and media practice, said the trio could replace the number of smaller firms Microsoft was using, and still have plenty of work for each of them given their varying levels of expertise, their geographic footprints and the ability to step in for one another when conflicts arise.
According to The American Lawyer article, "Microsoft Names Winning Firms in Legal Innovation Challenge", Microsoft’s picks for the winning projects, along with the entire Legal Business Design Challenge, crystallize the ways in which clients are looking for outside providers to marshal varied skill sets, use technology, collaborate with other providers and do more than just pure legal work.
You can read more here: https://www.law.com/americanlawyer/2020/06/26/microsoft-names-winning-firms-in-legal-innovation-challenge/
How a 50-Lawyer Litigation Boutique Reinvented the Relationship with its Clients.
Founded in Long Beach, California, Keesal, Young & Logan (KYL)’s team had already been recognized twice by ILTA’s Distinguished Peer Awards when they launched a new venture called Keesal Propulsion Labs (KP Labs) to expand and connect their tech stack to solve complex legal and business process challenges.
On a recent interview to Attorney at Work, @Justin Hectus, CIO and CISO at KYL and CIO at KP Labs, mentioned that he met Connie Brenton, Chief of staff and Sr. Director of Legal Operations at NetApp, back in 2016 and she introduced him to the technical tools and tactics her company was using for workflow automation.
After using the tools to develop and roll out an automated workflow for a banking client, Hectus showed the results to Brenton and she ended up hiring KYL to help standardize NetApp’s legal and business processes across multiple departments. As of November 2019, KYL managed 60 automated workflows for NetApp, two-thirds of which were not related to legal.
This is another great example of a law firm standing out and delivering value to a legal department’s strategic objectives by involving business professionals alongside lawyers in client interactions.
If you want to learn more about KYL’s trajectory and start doing a similar approach to your clients, you can check the full interview here: https://www.attorneyatwork.com/50-lawyer-shop-became-netapp-go-to-law-firm/
The number of law firms taking a proactive attitude to leverage technology with clients is increasing and, as we can see from these examples, both the client and the law firm benefit from closer collaboration.
If you haven’t thought of this so far, take a look at the reference material mentioned on this blog post and get further inspiration to incorporate some of these tips in your firm or legal department.
Bárbara Gondim da Rocha
Head of KM and Innovation
Rocha, Marinho E Sales Advogados (Brazil)