I have a lot of time for Law Firm Marketing Researcher Michael Rynowecer. So, when his blog “The Mad Clientist” arrives in my inbox, I usually read it. The latest edition highlights recent research his company, BTI Consulting, regarding the current US law firm mood, seven months into the pandemic. For fun, I thought I’d compare what he found through his client base in the US to what I’m finding right here in BC.

  1. US Firms aren’t asking when this will end, but how long it will last. They are looking at long-term plans.

In BC, I find firms are still just trying to hold on. They are maintaining a version of their usual business structure and processes, holding their breath and hoping to survive. My advice these days is to consider the pandemic as an opportunity to make positive changes that will better serve law firms and clients in the long-run. Use this time to evolve your practices. I just presented on this for CLEBC. Check out their archives to get access to the program.

  1. Michael says that clients don’t see the pandemic and its ramifications as a surprise or new anymore. Zoom is the new normal. They are wondering what the next normal will be.

BC firms are still more focussed on the short to mid-term. They aren’t seriously considering the long-term ramifications on Covid. How many of their client base will survive? Are they geared up in the practice areas that will be most in demand (and do they know what those are?) It’s time to do some serious planning.

  1. US firms are wondering what to do about rate increases.

My sense is that BC firms are more concerned about holding onto the work they have and limiting barriers for its continuation. Instead of raising rates, I would encourage firms to manage their own expenses more effectively. And by this I don’t mean slashing costs; but rather, retooling your business processes so you run far more efficiently.

  1. Clients want to keep some of the interesting work for themselves (mostly referring to the tsunami of litigation that will be coming soon as businesses faulter).

This applies to clients with in-house counsel departments. That accounts for about a quarter of my clients’ clients, so is of limited value here. But this does serve as a good reminder that specialization will always be in demand, and may ward off dabbling by any in house lawyers.

  1. In-house counsel departments are trying to figure out how to get access to more people and budget.

Not sure this is limited to a pandemic as clients are always seeking to stretch their legal dollars. Secondments might be out of the question; but BTI suggests you could look at orchestrating faster settlements for your clients, or providing more fixed fee work.

  1. US law firms are worried that clients will make decisions and take action too quickly, without considering the longer-term ramifications.

It’s ironic as this is what I’ve long accused BC law firms of doing too often themselves: gut reactions without understanding the full ramifications of those choices. So how do we get clients to pause long enough to make better decisions? Win their trust, demonstrate our expertise, share stories to teach the right lessons, take a plan-based approach, have more meaningful dialogue (i.e. conversations, not pontification).

  1. US law firm clients are wondering: should I hire a new law firm to help? While clients may use multiple law firms, only the top one or two get most of the work. And clients are wondering if they’ve made the right choices, so there is a marked increase in RFP processes in the US.

Here in BC, I find that most clients don’t understand their true value to the client. Few firms do regular surveys or client audits. When I was in-house, it was my experience that most lawyers thought they were their client’s main lawyer. But for public companies with reportable spending, we soon found out that often wasn’t true. We need to stop making assumptions and instead, have more meaningful dialogue with our clients to better understand them, where we stand, and what we could be doing to be even more relevant to them. If you’re wondering if it’s worth it? Research shows that 68% of clients would be willing to try another law firm, even if they are satisfied with their current firm. Take the time to maintain and grow your relationships. Your firm could depend on it.

This is (hopefully) a once in a life-time event. Firms must decide if their strategy is to hold their breath and hope they survive, or if they want to use circumstances to force a different way of thinking and operating. It all depends on whether you believe this pandemic will have long-term affects on our law firms and client bases. My view? Crisis always leads to some permanent shifts.

Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms and lawyers. She can be reached at heather@heathergraygrant.com