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Any relationship counselor will tell you that good communication is crucial to a thriving partnership. As with couples, sometimes legal departments and their outside counsel arent on the same page. A recent survey by ALM Legal Intelligence (ALI), a sibling organization of CorpCounsel.com, sought to identify disconnects in the collaboration process between law firms and their corporate clients.
The survey findings were published in a whitepaper titled Meeting Client Expectations? The Hidden Secret for Improved Satisfaction. A copy of the full report, sponsored by Microsystems, is available for download here.
The survey was conducted online between July 9 and August 6 of last year. Half of the 118 in-house respondents surveyed were employed by companies earning $1 billion or more annually. Of the 107 law firm respondents to the survey, 80 percent were from mid- to large-size firms.
In todays fiercely competitive environment, outside counsel must constantly seek new ways to provide client services. According to the report, a major component of satisfying corporate clients is being able to consistently deliver high-quality documentsand doing so in the manner the client prefers. For example, 63 percent of legal departments said they prefer using Microsoft Words Track Changes to communicate changes, while that method was only preferred by 44 percent of law firms.
Failing to meet expectations when it comes to document quality and delivery can by itself be a deal breaker for corporate clients. More than half of in-house respondents (51 percent) said they had terminated an outside firm for sub-par performance in this area.
Interestingly, only 3 percent of law firm respondents indicated having been fired for failing to meet document quality and delivery expectations. According to the report, the disconnect shows that when firms have been terminated, for this reason or any other, they may not know why they were let go.
The ALI survey suggests that firms capable of rising to the occasioni.e., improving the quality and delivery of legal work product while simultaneously keeping down feescan thrive in the current market. The report offers ways to improve collaboration, including using manpower more efficiently and making better use of technology to overcome hurdles in the collaborative process.
The report identifies these five document exchange and review essentials for firms to keep in mind:
1. Deliver High-Quality Documents in a Timelier Manner
Forty-four percent of legal departments said appropriate document formatting for easy navigation is a must. According to the report, firms can exceed client expectations by quickly turning around easily navigated documents that can be reviewed on multiple electronic device types, including smartphones and tablets.
2. Improve the Process of Reusing Prior Work Product and Incorporate a Multitude of Sources
Law firms can use technology as a safeguard against the risks associated with the incorporation of prior work product into new documents.
3. Meet Expectations for Document Validation
Instead of using technological resources to validate documents, many firms have their lawyers manually check for editing mistakes and other errors. Nine out of 10 legal departments said that they expect firms will have paralegals and other support staff review legal documents for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, yet only 46 percent of firms said they do so. One legal department respondent said, Some law firms dont keep up-to-date with technology, dont know how to effectively use what they have, or dont explain options to clients.
4. Include Clients in the Drafting Process
Sixty-nine percent of legal department respondents indicated being satisfied or very satisfied with the collaboration process. But only 27 percent said there has been a lot of improvement to the exchange over the last two years. And while 32 percent of clients prefer to contribute content to documents, only 17 percent desire content contribution from clients. Thirty-nine percent of law firms said that they prefer a one-directional process in which the client provides comments only. Fifty-five percent of legal departments prefer a back-and-forth process, while only 42 percent of law firms want that.
5. Minimize the Overabundance of Email and Redline Reports
In-house clients and their outside counsel agree that the exchange and review process could be more efficient. About a quarter said the process goes relatively quickly. Both sides identified the high volume of email associated with the process as the top challenge.
Meeting Client Expectations? The Hidden Secret for Improved Satisfaction is available for free download from ALM Legal Intelligence.