Rare is the in-house counsel who will swiftly and directly confront outside counsel about minor annoyances or even major frustrations. While there are exceptions, most clients just don’t have the time, bandwidth or interest to proactively offer course corrections. Many attorneys are by nature conflict averse and indirect. So if you aren’t picking up on subtle hints, specifically outlining expectations, meeting or ideally exceeding those expectations and asking for feedback on a regular basis, your client relationships may be at risk.
In a recent interview, a client described her frustrations with a law firm. When asked if she intended to fire the firm, she said, “I call it firing in slow motion. Once the current matters with them wrap up, we just won’t send anymore.” Time and again we hear similar anecdotes. Another recent interviewee provided feedback about his frustration with a partner’s lack of responsiveness and decisiveness but admitted he had not shared that feedback with the offending partner or even his primary contact at the law firm because he just didn’t want to deal with it.
To overworked, under-resourced and highly stressed out in-house counsel, it is just one more headache to explain for the third time that they need matters billed on separate invoices or coded differently, that they need progress reports submitted on the forms they provide every single month, that their outside counsel billing policy does not include internal conferences or that they need progress to budget included on invoices.
One managing partner calls these minor offenses that go unaddressed the “slow bleed.” Seeking client feedback and addressing the complaints is the perfect tourniquet. As we enter the year-end season, be sure to make time to provide your clients the opportunity to provide feedback. Suggest a celebratory coffee, cocktail or meal to express your thanks. Keep it simple. Ask each client:
- What did we do well in 2015?
- What should we do differently in 2016?
- What can we do to help you be successful?