Top of the pile

 

As much as panel firms may have to work together, standing head and shoulders above the rest is the panel position of choice.  PACE advises how to treat your key clients.

You tell me that I am one of your key clients — you say your place on our panel of legal advisers is vitally important to your firm as it gives your people stimulating work, we add kudos and attract other clients to your portfolio and the volume of fees we pass your way is invaluable. You often say the words ‘key client’, but to be frank I do not know what this means to us.

We have a number of advisers on our panel and it is often very difficult distinguishing between them. They all have the technical capabilities to do the work we need. A couple stand out, I suppose, because of the personalities involved. But my legal department does not feel any real loyalty or affinity to one firm. You cannot differentiate one in terms of service excellence and added value. And so I suppose that is why I find it strange when you say how important my company is to your firm. I do not have any ‘key’ legal advisers.

So I thought I would jot down some ideas on how we could change the situation so your firm becomes as valuable to us, as we are to you. Get these things right and you can be sure you will stand head and shoulders above the other firms on our panel.

The day-to-day stuff
As I mentioned, we take it for granted that your firm has the technical ability to do the job we need doing. We expect quality and accuracy in your work and, if we do not get it, we will go elsewhere. We have our own clients, too, so any poor quality and error on your part reflects on us. We will endeavour to tell you the service standards we expect. However, you would be sensible to check from time to time that our expectations are not changing or being changed.

We are always looking to improve our department’s effectiveness and you could really help us here. It would be great if we could gain your ideas and suggestions on how we might improve the turnaround times and components of certain instructions. You must see some great working practices across the legal teams you work with. We would be really open to ideas on how we might better structure our team and its work so we can improve our performance. Planning on both our sides could be improved so we work more cohesively and avoid unnecessary complications.

As we work on various projects together, it would be great if you could keep us informed of how things are doing. Our clients expect us to keep them informed of progress. It makes it really difficult when we do not hear from a team of advisers and have to badger for an update. We know some firms have special client extranets where they record this sort of information.  That is great, but we are not asking you to make such an investment. A simple telephone call or email update would suffice. It would also enable us to alert you to any potential challenges and give you feedback along the way. Regular contact between us would probably help us to nip potential problems in the bud.

It would also give you a much deeper understanding of our company than your competitors. Do not just rely on us to update you; we are very busy, although we are happy to help where we can. It would be great if you kept an eye out for developments in our industry — you might even be able to spot challenges and opportunities before we do. The thought of having a whole client service team where the lawyers at all levels demonstrate a commercial understanding of our business and our industry is very attractive and would be hugely valuable.  And at the end of each piece of work, please do not send invoices for ‘legal services’. Our accounts and finance team demand more pricing transparency. In the future our procurement colleagues will probably turn their attention to the company’s use of legal services. We therefore need to show greater clarity in the legal expenditure and demonstrate the value that is gained from it.

In between instructions
It is irritating to have law firms contact you only when they think there is a piece of work in the offing. The best firms we work with keep in regular contact. This is sometimes through client reviews to update their understanding of what is going on in our company. I also love those rare occasions when we get a call from one of the panel members saying, “hey, we saw this happening in your industry and wondered how it was affecting you?”, or “have you thought of this…?” It is a clear demonstration that the firm is genuinely interested in us and our success.

Even better are those firms that keep us up to date with relevant success stories and benefits they have brought to clients similar to us. It all helps give us ideas on how to improve what we do and cope with the challenges we face. It also ensures that our understanding of the different pockets of expertise in the firm, which we can draw on, is up to date too. The firm that has its eye on making our business more successful and our department more effective would be highly regarded within our organisation.

Building our loyalty
I should be honest; I am unlikely to be general counsel of this company forever. At some point I will want to make a career move to an even larger organisation. It therefore might be sensible if you consider widening your contacts here. Even if I think your firm is great, if others have no knowledge of you then you might face a panel tender when my successor takes over. It would also be great to know more people on your side, especially if we can get our people with particular interests and responsibilities to get closer to some of your specialists in the same field.

I am sure you have a plan to build our loyalty and protect this key client relationship. I would be keen to see it and could help you with its development. Doing so would be very refreshing, as I am tired of firms assuming I want certain things when I do not. Yes, I am keen on added value, but to be valuable it has to reflect what I, my team and the company are interested in. So please do not send me newsletters, brochures and fact-sheets that have no bearing on the challenges we face.  And please, make sure members of your client service team share any information they glean. It is really frustrating when you have to repeat information to people from the same firm, or correct them because one of them has the wrong understanding of a situation. We need to experience a seamless service where all your people, no matter what level they are, have an up-to-date understanding of what is going on in our business, the goals we are pursuing and the challenges we are endeavouring to overcome.

It is nice that you rank us as one of your key clients; we would like to reciprocate and call you one of our key advisers. These ideas would really help our two organisations get closer together. You have talented people; so do we. The more you understand and help us to achieve our goals, the more we will value and call on you for more and more expertise. And we are less likely to haggle over the fee for this expertise, as it would be hugely valuable and part of our company’s success.

 

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