A Law Firm and Legal Department COO Roundtable held earlier this year revealed important information that could be helpful to law firms when building client relationships.
Michael R. Caplan, COO of Goodwin Procter LLP, summarized the “open, honest, lively and direct” conversation for Big Law and its four takeaways for outside counsel: client data security, leveraging law firm operations more broadly, technology’s impact on the legal industry and law firms soliciting feedback to improve performance.
Data breaches at law firms are the legal industry’s greatest concern at the moment. In addition to adequate security, there are questions about what firms do with client data once matters are completed, and whether partners are informed of their firm’s record-retention policies. Caplan states that different laws in different jurisdictions that can govern these policies add to the complexity of the issue. Also, because cloud computing is essential, it raises the question of who owns the data encryption key: firms or the cloud company.
In order to best serve corporate clients, firms must focus on two things at once: the practice of law (lawyers) and the business of law (operations). The COOs not only want to hear from lawyers starting from the pitch through engagement, they also want to hear from the project managers. Clients will enjoy greater value through the combination of legal and operations. Operations professionals are essential to discussions around pricing, placing emphasis on not just cost, but also value. Says Caplan:
“Law firm operations professionals need to help partners understand that profitability on a single matter is only one aspect of the overall relationship.”
As artificial intelligence technology, such as predictive coding, continues to emerge and document training takes place using client’s data, who owns that data: clients or firms? More specifically, if a firm uses one client’s data to train and offer advice to another client, is it proprietary learning or can the first client make a claim to that knowledge? There are two schools of thought: clients can put parameters around their data or agree to its use in the name of both companies and firms making better business decisions.
Finally, while client feedback on performance is essential to law firms, only about 30 percent of the COOs at the 2018 meeting received feedback requests from their firms. There are many reasons why this number isn’t higher, including more emphasis on the day-to-day and lacking the courage to be candid.
“Law firms are beginning to realize they need to get better at soliciting and acting on feedback, and valuing constructive criticism.”
This soliciting of feedback is another area that lawyers and operations professionals can collaborate on to the benefit of both firm and client.