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

, The Legal Intelligencer


examining the city

Editor's note: This article is the second part of a series on getting business in a difficult legal market.

As in-house legal budgets continue to tighten, legal departments are taking a hard look at the value they're receiving from outside counsel. As a result, even firms with longstanding relationships are finding themselves under the microscope. In the face of intense competition, firms can make themselves indispensable to their existing clients by demonstrating a deep understanding of the clients' business and a commitment to fostering a long-lasting relationship, firm leaders and business development professionals said.

"The general guiding cultural principle we follow is to understand the client's business, to add value and to do the work very well and cost-effectively," said Timothy P. Ryan, CEO of Pittsburgh-based Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott.

According to Ryan, more and more clients are issuing requests for proposal as a means of whittling down their lists of outside counsel, forcing firms to prove their worth.

While a history of quality service is obviously a must for any firm hoping to make the cut, clients in a post-recession economic climate are looking beyond mere competency for firms with a strong business acumen and practice depth, attorneys said.

Mark P. Messing, chief marketing officer of Philadelphia-based Duane Morris, said in an email that "client intimacy is the sine qua non to maintaining and gaining client share; know the client's business better than anyone else; maintain strategic perspective on client business (not just the legal department)."

"Ramping up client intimacy takes many forms, but it's not entertainment," Messing said. "It's focused on building knowledge which allows our lawyers to anticipate client issues and start developing solutions ... even ahead of a fully articulated problem."

According to Ryan, when his firm responds to an RFP by an existing client, the number-one thing it strives to emphasize is a deep knowledge of the client's industry and how the client operates within that industry.

Ryan said his firm spends "a lot of time on our own nickel, understanding, reading and staying up-to-date on our clients' businesses."

Providing a mix of legal and business counsel that goes beyond just a single matter has become just as important a strategy for a Central Pennsylvania regional firm like 18-lawyer Hartman Underhill & Brubaker in Lancaster as it is for a 700-plus-lawyer global firm like Duane Morris.

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