Savvy law firms have long used client service teams to ensure they are fulfilling their most important clients’ needs. These teams seek client feedback through surveys and interviews and use this feedback to become more effective business partners for those clients.

However, most general counsel don’t have the time to respond to surveys and offer feedback. Therefore, the firm’s partnering efforts are wasted. Some legal departments are responding to this need by hiring a business relations manager charged with ensuring the company gets the most out of its relationships with preferred providers. DuPont did this years ago to help manage its relationships with the firms in its preferred-provider network.

While this idea may first strike you as an unnecessary expense, a business relations manager can help you maximize the efficiency of the firms you work with and nurture the relationships you have with those firms.

Some large and mature legal departments already have executive directors, administrators or chief operating officers, but those departments also can benefit from hiring someone who is directly responsible for managing law firms. The legal department executive director works on long-term strategy, not the day-to-day challenges that cause tension between law firms and the clients they serve.

One possible solution to this would be for a law firm to “loan” your company someone from its business development or marketing department to help track the firm’s progress toward your goals. That individual could help the firm turn the abstract ideas it gets from surveys into tangible results for the client.

Firms have loaned young associates to clients for years to give them additional resources and to work on specific legal problems, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t do the same for business problems. Law firms also will benefit from lending their clients a businessperson. Having someone inside the business they serve will help the firm more easily assess workflow issues, remedy communications challenges and gain a deeper understanding of what the client really wants.

Too often law firms make assumptions about what is revealed in client surveys and interviews. Until legal departments and law firms both realize the benefits of investing in their business relationship, the value of law firms’ client-development programs will be limited.

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