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For the team in charge of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, waiting for client feedback to bubble up from associates and rank-and-file partners to firm management takes too long. They want to know what clients expect from the firm. So Wilson managers like partner John Roos, managing director of professional services, began a more aggressive approach earlier this year to learn where clients see their industries headed. That way, Wilson Sonsini can be ready when change does occur. Roos is one of a team of senior Wilson partners roving through the Valley, visiting clients to pick their brains. It’s not ground-breaking — lawyers talk to their clients all the time. But Wilson’s managers decided they want to take the lead in intelligence gathering. “We decided rather than poll each individual partner about the conversations they’re having,” Roos said, “we would go out, and, in a more formal way, interview our clients about the direction of their technology and their need for services.” Roos said partner teams, which have included Donna Petkanics, the firm’s managing director of operations, and Donald Bradley, Wilson’s general counsel, have met with about a half-dozen clients so far. Roos said they’re targeting a cross-section of the firm’s clients, including companies both large and small and in different sectors of the technology industry, from Internet companies to network hardware makers. Roos declined to name the clients that the firm has queried or go into detail about the intelligence gleaned. But sources at the firm said Sun Microsystems Inc. was one stop on the tour. That meeting proved so insightful, managers invited John Croll, Sun’s general counsel, to speak during Wilson’s annual partners retreat over the Labor Day weekend. Roos said so far, the one- to two-hour client meetings have been broad conversations about the industry and the firm’s relationship with the client. And clients seem willing, even happy, to talk about global issues, Roos said. So pleased, in fact, that not one has pulled out a recent legal bill to kvetch about charges. “It’s been more of a ‘where’s your business headed?’ and ‘what areas do you see the need for legal services?’” Roos said. “Talking directly to our clients is helpful, and I think the clients appreciate it.”

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