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What do business clients seek from their law firm partner?

Law firms today talk a lot about differentiation: how they can stand out from the crowd in a highly competitive marketplace. No wonder it’s such a pressing preoccupation, at a time when having excellent legal expertise is a given and clients are looking for more from their legal advisers.  

When thinking about differentiation, it’s not only important to consider what makes your firm unique in isolation. It’s also vital to look at it through the prism of what your business clients are looking for from their law firm partners. By linking your USPs (unique selling points) back to their needs, you will be in a better position to make powerful pitches to potential new clients and ensure that you are serving all the diverse and specific needs of your existing ones. All of which will help to develop stronger client relationships and encourage them to give you more work, underpinning your firm’s success and ultimately contributing to growth 

The list of client expectations

The list of clients’ expectations may be long – and it could be quite complex. Alongside the obvious must-haves like experience, competence, thoroughness and professionalism, there are many other, broader qualities that will impress clients but that may be somewhat more open to interpretation. These include creativity, collaboration, transparency, efficiency, well-rounded industry knowledge and commercial acumen.  

The Thomson Reuters 2022 State of the UK Legal Market report is revealing on this subject. It found that having a deep understanding of their top clients’ wish-lists for their lawyers, followed technology/digital skills and commerciality. Cost-effectiveness and staying up to date with legal changes are next in the pecking order. The findings also highlight that issues like delivering consistency and being innovative are now becoming more closely correlated to client satisfaction.  

The reality is that all of these factors are closely linked. How you demonstrate these attributes is central to how you set yourself apart from the rest of the field. 

Legal advice that makes business sense

For example, investing in tech tools that enhance your lawyers’ know-how can give enormous confidence, empowering them to give prompt answers to clients and come up more quickly with suitable strategies for how to approach matters. Such tools should make their legal research more precise or extensive as required, helping them find relevant cases or pieces of legislation faster, or enable them to verify citations or analyse documents in no time to build stronger cases.  

Or tech tools could provide vital expert commentary, insight and guidance around legal issues so lawyers can get to grips with unfamiliar areas of law as they relate to a particular area of business – rapidly and in detail, and even spot upcoming changes or potential opportunities or threats on the horizon. If helpful templates and drafting notes are provided alongside to increase efficiency, accuracy and consistency, that’s even better. 

Such resources can play a major part in ensuring your lawyers can see the issues from a commercial as well as legal perspective, so their advice always makes business sense. And they will help law firms position themselves as partners that see the bigger picture, looking beyond purely the matter at hand and taking a strategic approach to delivering the desired outcome. 

Don’t overlook the practicalities

When it comes to understanding your client’s business, there are many practical considerations as well as legal, commercial and sector-specific ones. This is not just about the work itself, but how it is conducted. Increasingly, clients want their law firms to think about how to solve pain points and eliminate friction in processes. They want them to be proactive and collaborative in the way they communicate. They want them to be transparent about the work being undertaken: its progress, who’s working on it, what the upcoming tasks or due dates are, and the status of cost against budget.  

For instance, they may appreciate having a client portal set up, where key information is displayed on dashboards or through which files can be shared and documents can be worked on securely together. This combination of visibility and interactivity can be a powerful means of giving clients both the confidence and control that they want, reinforcing the sense that you are truly more than just a transactional law firm: you’re a trusted partner with a strong client-centric focus and a can-do attitude.  

What do your clients want?

Ultimately, clients want maximum value from their law firms, but how they define and measure that value can take a variety of forms. Far from being purely about cost per se, many businesses have an extensive roster of requirements that spans both easily demonstrable attributes like legal expertise and more nebulous concepts such as efficiency and innovation for which each firm will need to determine its own approach. 

It’s becoming increasingly clear that clients don’t just want a law firm to carry out legal work. They want an adviser they can work with across different aspects of the business, whose guidance has a critical part to play in enabling them to meet business goals.  

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