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Corporate America isn’t very happy with its law firms. In fact, only 32 percent of executives responding to a recently released client service survey said they would recommend a firm that worked for them. “Overall client satisfaction is very low,” said Michael Rynowecer, president of BTI Consulting Group, which released its sixth annual survey earlier this month. “By focusing on who does well, you learn what can be done to improve that.” Two homegrown California firms � Morrison & Foerster and Latham & Watkins � landed on the survey’s top 30, as did two other firms with California blood, Reed Smith and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Targeting big legal spenders on the Fortune 1000 list and other large companies, Rynowecer’s team interviewed more than 250 corporate counsel and top executives over the past year to find out what they think of their outside law firms. What they found was that only 25 percent think their primary law firm is best at client service. “Many corporate counsel will tell you their law firms will do what they’re asked to, but nothing more,” said Rynowecer. “They feel they don’t try to understand their needs, and that they’re not proactive enough.” There are some firms, BTI’s “Client Service A-Team,” that buck that trend. These firms excel in being there to help clients (not just bill them), being focused on the client, providing bang for the buck, and understanding clients’ businesses � the four most important factors in client satisfaction, Rynowecer said. In the top 30 � which he called the “cream of the crop” � Reed Smith came in at 4, Latham at 7, MoFo at 9 and Morgan Lewis at 11. Sidley Austin topped the list. MoFo Chairman Keith Wetmore said the survey results are proof that the firm’s efforts are paying off. (The firm finished outside the top 30 last year.) “We have over the past few years re-dedicated ourselves to client services,” said Wetmore. “Clients expect proactive investment in their needs, meaning time off the clock thinking about their business strategies.” The firm also placed at the top of another list in the BTI survey: the most arrogant law firms. MoFo ranked sixth among the firms “most often cited as being most arrogant,” behind New York firms like Cravath, Swaine & Moore, Sullivan & Cromwell, and winner Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. “We’re not proud of that, though we are in good company,” said Wetmore. “It is not a surprise and it is something we are trying to change in the other direction.” The perception of arrogance stems from refusal to take on work, high fees, poor experience on the other side of a matter, and “direct advice to the minority of clients who want advice sugar-coated,” according to the survey. Both Morgan, Lewis and Latham have made it onto the top 30 A-Team for the six years the survey has been in existence. BTI said one corporate counsel quizzed for the survey praised Latham’s quick response time. “Latham & Watkins responded to my urgent need by asking if they could put me on hold while they tracked down two partners � one in another country and the other in another time zone,” said the interviewee, who, like all those surveyed, was kept anonymous.”I was talking with them all in 11 minutes, and they each had practical, pointed advice. My other firm took two days to tell me when they could meet. They did not know I was responding to a question during a board meeting.” Reed Smith has also been a steady performer, gradually rising in the ranks and jumping from 15 to 4 this year. Other big California firms, like Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; and O’Melveny & Myers, didn’t crack the top 30 but earned top scores in several categories. Pillsbury, for instance, ranked high in nearly every category � including best performing law firm overall and understanding clients’ business � but fell from 4 last year to 31. “Not quite as many clients are talking about them in a positive way, but being ranked at 31 is still a very strong performance,” said Rynowecer. Surprisingly, some large California firms didn’t even get a mention in the survey. They included Heller Ehrman; Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker; and the firms known earlier this year as Cooley Godward and Thelen Reid & Priest. To get mentioned in the survey, firms must get “unprompted, explicit recognition from clients,” which 238 firms did this year, according to the survey. Legal consultant Peter Zeughauser of the Zeughauser Group said the BTI survey, while no replacement for a firm’s own client survey, is “well regarded” and taken into account by many law firms. “I think they use it as one broad way of how they’re perceived in the marketplace,” he said. “They also use it as a data point in strategic planning.” Rynowecer, whose group sells the survey results to law firms and companies, said that law firms who didn’t do well on the survey should beware. “The analysis in the BTI report highlights the law firms [that] clients rate as the best client service performers,” he said. “These best performers can use this advantage to take business from other law firms.”

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