Recently I gave the closing keynote at a mid-sized insurance company’s annual conference for outside lawyers. The company (which we'll call "Acme") annually invites a selection of their outside counsel to discuss issues of importance to it; the items on the agenda for this year, and for the last few years, have been innovation, providing more client value and finding blue oceans.
Here is a company that totally gets it, AND more importantly, is focussed on working with its outside counsel to achieve results. I see very little of this and so I was greatly impressed; far too often, change fails at the execution stage.
At the conference there was no talk of the simplistic, “Just give us a 10 percent discount off your rates.” There was only real, meaningful discussions about ways in which outside counsel can, in the words of Patrick Lamb, “skinny the file”, be more thoughtful about charting exit ramps, perform more efficiently and, more importantly, give value back to Acme. Awards were given to counsel who acted in such a fashion.
One counsel was praised (and rightly so) for negotiating a discounted rate from local government authorities for electronic searches of court data bases. The law firm then notified Acme that instead of using it to conduct certain routine searches, Acme could do them directly at the pre-negotiated discount.
Here was a firm willingly giving up work (albeit low level work) and assisting Acme to "do-it-yourself" at a reduced rate.
Lower costs and speedier service as the middle-man was cut out of the process. How many other firms would do this? My bet is not too many.
Was Acme extremely happy with this law firm? Yup!
Which happiness virtually guaranteed that the firm will continue to get good work from Acme? You bet!
Lesson to be learned?
When you selflessly create value for your clients – they will give you valuable work in return.
Only clients can drive change in the marketplace. Most of the lawyers at that conference (all of which were very good and very smart) would have privately told you that, but for Acme's focus and drive, they would not be making any changes to the way they practice law. Query however, if they are changing the way they practice for their other clients….
So, word of warning to clients: don't expect your lawyers to change on their own. You'll need to understand the origins of your demand for legal services, then be focussed and relentless in driving changes that create the value you want.