The Most Important Skill for Lawyers in 2018


In every conversation I have with in-house counsel and the lawyers who support and serve them, the single most important trait clients value and lawyers pride themselves on is adaptability. Often other words are used to describe this highly valued trait, but it really comes down to adaptability as the key to successful relationships.

Two recent examples:

A chief legal officer recently needed to reduce spend with outside counsel. Three of the four firms came back and offered fixed fees for the work. The CLO’s reaction was something akin to: “I know because I was in a firm that they are just going to push the work down to the lawyers who aren’t busy, aren’t as skilled and don’t have the experience we really need.” The firm that actually saw increased work in the time of decreased spend was the one that sat down with the key players at the client, put in place a 90-day plan to prioritize work while determining what work could be done by the firm and even introduced a legal service provider to help with contract work at about $.25 on the dollar. Those attorneys also brought in some of the firm’s business professionals to talk about key factors that cause unexpected—and unexpectedly high—fees, to talk about project and process management and to do deeper financial analysis. Not only did that firm get more work, it got better work.

Another example (and this one we have heard too many times) is also about who is in the relationship or, more accurately, who “owns” the relationship. Often in times of change and succession, firms decide who will be the new relationship partner without listening to the client. One company determined that it no longer wanted a relationship partner but wanted a “relationship manager” to oversee the work. The company felt experienced but not highly senior lawyers should have both day-to-day and strategic oversight. The firm provided the client with a “relationship map” that outlined client needs and held candid conversations about who would be primary points of contact, effectively eliminating the traditional relationship partner. Obviously, the firm had to deal with the internal politics of adapting to the client’s needs. And as part of that, the firm chair was an available point of contact for anyone at the client.

Opening the door to that level of relationship management and expectation management, which puts everyone on the same page about mutual goals, has been a model for tremendous success and growth.

There are many more examples, but they all make a similar point: The past is not necessarily a model for what needs to happen in the future, and being adaptable is a hugely valuable trait in today’s legal market. Adapting to different and changing needs is the key to client loyalty in a “one size fits one” world.

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