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    Clients Drop 11 More Law Firms — Hitting 15-Year Low

    Clients have the smallest law firm panels in 15 years. A typical large company now relies on 36 law firms—down from 47 firms last year. This marks the second year in a row of the shrinking law firm panel. Despite the new low, corporate counsel report no plans to stop trimming their law firm rosters. Larger companies dropped 2 major law firms—and 9 smaller players—from their rosters.

    Cherry Picking Is The New Beauty Pageant

    Corporate counsel have shrinking time and inclination to watch a group of law firms strut their stuff. As a result, we hear little of the beauty pageants so prevalent 10 short years ago. Clients are basing hiring decisions on their daily experiences with these firms; meaning hiring decisions are based on your ongoing behavior instead of your qualifications and pitch.

    Replacing Firms Ever So Slowly

    60% of clients added one new firm to the now smaller rosters. This masks how deep the cuts actually are. GCs have been slowly interviewing a very small group of law firms. These top decision makers are testing your thoughts and client service with brainstorming, asking for opinions on current matters and engaging in substantive conversation. Clients want to see exactly how far you will go—and how fast—before they make a hire. These informal and extended conversations can span 5 to 8 months—but launch newly hired firms right into the core work.

    Slow, Unannounced Dismissal

    Clients stop awarding work to the firms who do not meet ever-rising expectations. Corporate counsel will wait a few months at best—then, no warnings or discussions—just a slow tail off in work. The only hints you will have are the lack of new business, or less client-initiated engagement.

    Do You Like Roller Coasters?

    Clients have expanded their law firm rosters in 7 out of the last 15 years. They have cut rosters in 8. Law firm rosters have been pruned for the last 2 years. We expect to see clients continue to add and delete law firms as needs change and law firms change—or don't change—as the case may be. The successful law firms know clients are always changing their line ups—bringing in new and different competition—and are developing strategies to keep and grow these relationships before others ever think about getting in the door



    Highest Rates Clients Pay Jump to $1600, Top Rates up 8%

    Clients pay $1,600 an hour after any discount as the highest rate in the market—a new all-time high for the top rate. And, this is not an isolated rate—more than a few clients report paying $1,600 per hour.

    4 Figure Hourly Rates Officially Part of the Legal Landscape

    38% corporate counsel report paying a top rate of $1,000 an hour or higher. The 4 figure HRP is clearly embedded in the legal landscape. The largest 30 law firms, including the Magic Circle firms, lay claim to 54% of clients paying the highest rates.

    Clients say new and extreme risks make the top rates worth paying. Think monster transactions, global complexity, large scale FCPA and similar enterprise-level risk. 

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    5 Trends Clients Want You To Jump On

    Early seeds of change often present the best new opportunities. BTI’s new research has uncovered 5 emerging trends—2 are client driven while 3 originate from law firms. Each presents new tactics, or in some cases a new and much better version of an old tactic. But none of these are in widespread use—yet. 

    1. Ratcheting Up Client Retention

    Law firms large and small are working to turn “my clients” into firm clients. Law firms are developing truly robust client teams and taking deep dives to understand a broad set of client needs and how clients want their law firms to change and improve. These newly energized client teams are led by senior partners with budgets to fund them. Clients are noting these client service improvements—and the firms choosing not to make these investments—and awarding work accordingly.

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    The 9 Roads to Premium Rates

    Brand isn’t about one thing. Your brand is about everything you do. Every action, interaction, the technology your firm uses, the client service your firm provides, or the value a client believes they get from using your firm—these all contribute to the imprint in a client’s mind; an impression which drives hiring decisions—and the rates clients think you are worth.

    Strong brands influence client loyalty, hiring, and rates—especially, premium rates. BTI assessed which activities were most important to legal decision makers’ when:

    • Making hiring decisions—both consideration and ultimate hiring of law firms
    • Bestowing law firm recommendations to peers
    • Awarding premium-rate work

    Subtle changes in law firm behavior greatly affect how legal decision makers perceive the firm’s overall brand. This year’s in-depth research uncovered 9 significant changes, all of which impact hiring and pricing for every law firm. These are:

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    Clients Short Lists Get a Little Longer

    Clients’ lists of go-to law firms just got a little longer. This means more law firms will have to fight harder to even be considered for hire for a new matter. As the number of top recommend firms shrinks corporate counsel are considering at least a few new firms to hire. One more sign of the marketing value of developing and investing in relationships as clients consider a longer list of competitors. 

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    A Few More Law Firms Make Changes to Boost Client Service

    More law firms are making changes to improve client service—37 more out of the 650 serving larger clients.  

    This small but strategic sliver of law firms are changing their business approach and processes to improve client service. Corporate counsel’s smaller law firm rosters are forcing law firms to reconsider their client-facing activities. With client short lists getting longer, clients are demanding the absolute best service and experiences from their law firms. To their credit, some law firms are responding (the other option is letting the work go to someone else willing to respond).  

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    Downtick in Client-Recommended Law Firms

    Those in the vanguard of recommendations have declined, down 12.6%. Client expectations are soaring as corporate counsel push for more change and more business value from their law firms. However, the response from law firms has left corporate counsel reluctant to unequivocally recommend a firm to their peers. The silver lining: the firms earning these increasingly rare recommendations are among the best positioned to win new work.

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    Fewer Law Firms Making Changes to Deliver More Value

    Streamlining and making corporate counsel's lives easier translates into better value.

    Unfortunately, clients report a 5% drop in the number of law firms adding value to the client experience. This may be the first sign of legal project management becoming more mainstream. Clients are thinking beyond project tools towards changes in work streams and work processes. The decline in the number of firms recognized for these changes can also be an early indicator of clients increasing their expectations for change at a rate faster than law firms can implement.

    Fewer firms delivering this attribute means the law firms making these changes have found a source of potent advantage.

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    Clients Rearrange Bet-the-Company Law Firm Rosters

    48 law firms enjoy new nods from corporate counsel for their ability to handle bet-the-company work.

    Corporate counsel have consolidated their law firm rosters to a select number of firms demonstrating the absolute best understanding of their business and needs. These firms earn the client’s trust and are in position to showcase their unmatched client understanding to handle high-stakes, bet-the-company work. 

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    More Law Firms Seen as Long-Term Market Leaders by Clients

    The end may not be upon us after all. 90 law firms are earning recognition as best bets to be long-term survivors—an astonishing uptick of 45% from 2014. 

    In what can only be a sign of confidence and optimism, corporate counsel recognize substantially more law firms as successfully navigating market shifts to emerge as long-term leaders. This means law firms are doing a better job executing on their strategic plans—as clients are the people who experience implementation most. This rise in potential market leaders has a strong impact on hiring for large and potentially long-term assignments, i.e., big‑ticket litigation. No corporate counsel wants to even consider a law firm for long-term work if they sense their firm will not be a strong player in the future.

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