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When Fulbright & Jaworski released its survey of 300 general counsel last month, the Houston-based firm said the project showed how important it is for outside counsel to communicate with in-house lawyers. Not much new there. But Fulbright & Jaworski likely will accomplish much more than learning about clients’ wants and worries by undertaking the high-profile and expensive survey, which the firm described as one of the most extensive of its kind. Besides providing a means of feedback, client surveys can be an effective marketing tool used to connect with existing clients and to boost a firm’s name recognition and visibility. In short, surveys can provide insight into clients’ needs while at the same time putting the firm in the public eye. Depending on the size of a particular practice or the scope of the survey, law firms either conduct the surveys themselves or hire research companies to do the work. They can cost anywhere from $6,000 to $75,000, not including the public relations work and marketing materials that follow, which can put such projects over the $100,000 mark. In Fulbright & Jaworski’s case, it hired Houston-based Greenwood Inc. to gather the information for its Corporate Counsel Litigation Trends Survey. In addition to the conclusion about communication with outside lawyers, the survey also revealed some less-expected results, including corporate fears about labor disputes and the reasons for choosing which outside counsel to hire. Beating the curve Fulbright & Jaworski attorney Steve Dillard, chairman of its global litigation practice, said that the primary purpose of the year-long project was to “stay ahead of the curve in terms of where the business was going.” The firm has an emerging issues division, which came up with the idea for the survey as a way to determine where the 853-attorney operation should direct its resources. But Dillard acknowledged that another component of the survey was marketing the firm’s name. Fulbright & Jaworski launched a substantial public relations effort once the survey was finished. “It heightens our presence,” Dillard said. He declined to reveal the cost of the survey, saying instead that it was “a substantial investment of resources,” so substantial, he said, that the firm “wouldn’t do it every year.” Despite the expense, surveying clients is a wise use of firm dollars, said Marci Krufka, consultant with Altman Weil, a legal management consultancy firm. Altman Weil routinely conducts its own surveys of corporate clients for feedback. Krufka said results consistently show that about 80% of corporate clients are never contacted by outside counsel for opinions about the representation provided. “It’s crazy,” she said, especially for firms that view themselves as strategic planners. “How can they not talk to their client base about what their needs are going be?” Foley & Lardner also has seen the advantages of surveys. For the last two years, the firm has undertaken surveys looking at the costs to public companies of compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the accounting and investor protection law passed in 2002. Though more narrowly focused, the survey has the benefit of timeliness. This year, the firm decided to arrange a media conference call the day it released the survey findings. The next day, the firm ended up on the front page of the Financial Times as part of a story about Sarbanes-Oxley costs. “We’re getting a little more savvy with it,” said Thomas E. Hartman, a partner at Foley & Lardner in charge of directing the survey. He explained that tailoring the survey, conducted by in-house staffers but analyzed by an outside company, paid off because the issue affected not only the firm’s clients but the larger business community. Moreover, by conducting the survey for two consecutive years, Hartman said, the firm has begun to see trends emerging related to Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. But he also cautioned that reading too much into the results is unwise. “It’s not the basis for a Ph.D. dissertation,” Hartman said. “It is what it is.” Creating good will Creating good will with existing and potential clients is one of the biggest benefits firms can gain from surveys, said Hildebrandt International consultant Terri Gavulic. She agreed with Krufka that conducting surveys isn’t widespread. However, Gavulic expects to see more as firms look for new ways to keep clients satisfied and to market themselves. Keeping one particular client satisfied was the impetus for Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy’s survey on corporate compliance. After client BellSouth Corp. asked the Atlanta-based firm to find out how other large public corporations were handling the requirements under new federal securities laws, the firm sent a group of its lawyers to personally interview 29 Fortune 100 companies, some of which were not firm clients. BellSouth footed much of the bill for the time that six midlevel partners devoted to the nine-month project. Although the names of the companies interviewed were not revealed to the public, the firm issued a press release about its general findings. An article in Investor’s Business Daily followed. In addition, the firm gained some new clients because of the one-on-one contact its lawyers had while conducting the survey, said Powell Goldstein managing partner James J. McAlpin Jr. Firm partners received additional face time with companies by offering to go over the survey results with participants in person. Besides the information about client compliance the survey yielded, it also gave the firm “connections and opportunities,” McAlpin said. Whether to conduct written surveys, telephone interviews or personal meetings depends on the survey’s scope and purpose, Krufka said. “Written surveys cast a wider net that enables firms to gather feedback from a greater number of clients. Personal interviews give the least. Telephone interviews are in between,” she said. Jones’ e-mail address is [email protected].

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