What In-House Lawyers Want
In the ever-growing client focused legal industry, it’s becoming more and more important for lawyers to provide their clients with what they want, to provide them with a competitive alternative to the huge list of available legal services available. Although, law firms are now paying more attention to giving clients a more transparent service, for example, having set budgets and fixed fees, firms are often forgetting about what in-house lawyers really want. Without changing to better accommodate in-house lawyers, firms will find themselves loosing clients, earning themselves a bad reputation and consequently loosing revenue.
Throughout this article, we discuss what we feel are the top 3 ‘wants’ of in-house lawyers, based on our own experiences and noting the difference our solutions have made to law firms by providing such ‘wants’ to their clients.
To start with, law firms should ask in-house lawyers how they want to communicate. Whether this be via phone, via email, through interactive portals or in person, efficient communication is vital and knowing which method is preferred is advantageous. According to David Lat, who recently spoke at the District of Delaware’s Bench and Bar Conference, in-house lawyers have a great deal more cases, meetings and thus emails compared to the average lawyer, making their time precious. To prevent time being wasted, you need to ensure communication between yourself and the in-house lawyer is clear, succinct and effective. Being an effective communicator involves communicating issues as they arise and potential ones that may in the future. Flagging issues as soon as possible, provides the in-house lawyer with time to deliberate with colleagues and decide on a plan of action. In-house lawyers are often inundated with a range of legal issues for their own firms, all with their own restrictive budgets. As a result, they value communication that gets straight to the point and avoids unnecessary information.
Another example of poor communication is relying on email. Emails are often lost in long confusing threads or forgotten about among others. This leads to miscommunications, frustration over long replies or no replies and has the added risk of exposing confidential files, as email lacks the same security as client portals. Another reason client portals are more effective for communication is they allow users to discuss documents and track changes as they are made. When everything is on one easy-to-manage platform, it becomes effortless to discuss your matter and make progress on projects.
Don’t forget, another vital part of being an effective communicator is keeping the client in the know. This is key when building a trusting relationship. The easiest way to implement this would be by using a collaborative portal. Such portals can use granular rights, meaning everyone involved can be part of the same portal, but some will have limited access to certain files to keep them confidential. Portals also allow you to work together with your client on documents, editing them together whenever and wherever.
If not already obvious, efficiency is exceedingly important for the in-house lawyer. As mentioned previously, they tend to be swamped with cases for their own company, which is one of the various reasons efficient outside counsel is so sought after. To ensure you adhere to these needs, make sure you keep them updated at all times by telling them the progress of their matters, even if they didn’t ask. They also don’t want to be chasing law firms to find out the status of such matters, especially when their CEO wants to know the progress, so to prevent any animosity – keep them well informed.
Be efficient with your project management and calendar updates. The last thing you want to do is have your client forget, miss or have an event, deposition, deadline etc. sneak up on them. Remember, in-house lawyers won’t have the same fancy calendaring systems that law firms use, more commonly using Outlook to track dates. Use a project management tool or calendar system with updates to make sure they are reminded and are well aware of upcoming events, deadlines and meetings.
Sterling Miller, who himself is an in-house lawyer, explains in his article ‘10 things you need to know as in-house counsel’, that outside counsel needs to provide sufficient time to review documents, otherwise clients can be left feeling rushed and flustered. If you need them to review a document or sign something off, make sure they have enough time and ask in advance. If left feeling under prepared, it is unlikely they will consider using you in the future.
The solution is to keep everything in one centralized portal. You can provide your client with real-time updates on their matter, keep them informed and give them the ability to access documents whenever and wherever they want. Such portals tend to have project management module, showing the progress for projects, making it trackable and again keeping your clients in the know. Not to forget built in calendar systems, meaning you can even remind yourself to guarantee they are updated for upcoming events etc. Another great benefit, is that by using one centralized working space, you can eliminate disparate or redundant messages from multiple threads of email.
Understand the Business
Finally, the last standout ‘want’ is for lawyers to understand the client’s business. This was likewise found at the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) 2019 Annual Conference and Expo, where Ari Kaplan Advisors conducted a survey to expose the top ‘wants’ for in-house lawyers. In their survey, it was clear more needs to be done to understand in-house lawyers needs and more effort put in to achieve such needs.
Therefore, to increase the likelihood that you retain your client’s business in the future, it is essential you understand the client’s business. Learn what you can about their structure, the culture and how the business works, as well as developing an understanding for the industry. Research who their competitors are and find out what legal and business challenges they are facing. This will expand your knowledge, making it easier to identify their business’s specific needs, whilst impressing them. They want perspective, not just a list of options that they don’t quite understand. Miller (2016), and Lat (2018), both resonate this point throughout their articles. Your clients have sought you for advice, so advise.
Client portals can be particularly helpful to prove you know a client’s business. By creating a personalized portal specific to their needs, clients will be impressed that all information in their dashboard is relevant to them. Branding is also key here, by adding the client’s logos or theme colors, you prove you have gone above the rest to provide client specific portals that suit their needs and business. Once their bespoke portal has been created, all relevant documentation can be uploaded, communication and collaboration can begin and you’re already on your way to securing a client for life.
Our extranet and collaboration portal, Hubshare, is perfect to suit your firms needs and to ensure you provide in-house lawyers with their ‘wants’. With Hubshare you can stay in touch with your clients from anywhere, whenever you want, allowing for fluid communication. It also ensures your business’s productivity is maximized with a dynamic portal, empowering your lawyers to collaborate with clients and build those all-important relationships. Show you know the client’s business by using our personalizable hubs that allow you to add logos, change colors and add widgets suited to the client’s needs. Additionally, showcase efficiency having everything in one manageable place and use our real-time updates to make sure you’re never working on an old document again.
Ten Things: What In-House Lawyers Really Want from Outside Counsel
Ari Kaplan Advisors infographic, The Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) 2019 Annual Conference and Expo.