As Clients' Budgets Shrink, Firms Aim to Prove Their Worth

, The Legal Intelligencer

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Hartman Underhill managing partner Kim R. Smith said that, at a time when smaller firms are losing some of the more commodity-type work they used to do to online legal services companies, her firm is looking at ways to provide clients with "the real value, which is legal advice; the things you can't really find on the Internet or shortcut your way through."

"One thing we're working on, though we're not quite there yet, is helping [clients] with their own business planning and projecting by helping them see what their business needs are," Smith said. "We're trying to be a little proactive because we feel that creates value."

Ryan said Eckert Seamans has also been successful in demonstrating its business knowledge by cross-selling services across various offices and practice areas to clients that are looking to give more work to fewer outside counsel.

While many firms tout their practice depth, utilizing that depth first requires buy-in from the firm's attorneys, Ryan said, explaining that cross-selling won't work if lawyers in different offices don't know and trust each other with their clients' business.

"We view internal referrals as outside referrals," Ryan said, noting that the firm holds monthly practice group meetings via teleconference to build familiarity.

Ryan said his firm's cross-selling efforts have also been aided by its low attrition rate, which gives attorneys confidence that they can refer a client to a colleague without fear of that colleague taking his practice elsewhere a few months or years down the line.

"It's a mess when it happens and clients don't want to get caught in the middle of it," Ryan said.

Smith said Hartman Underhill also aims to demonstrate its practice depth to clients as a means of capturing a larger chunk of business.

"We try to make sure we educate them that we have the staff and attorneys to handle [a wide range of matters] by telling them, 'You really could probably save on costs by having our firm do as much as we do, rather than paying premiums to four or five different firms,'" Smith said.

But in an environment where in-house budgets are shrinking, even the most knowledgeable firm runs the risk of receiving a pink slip from a client if it's unwilling to work efficiently and be flexible in terms of rates.

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