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Three years ago, until executive committee member Rory Judd Albert formed a team of his partners to court more business from global management consulting firm Towers Perrin, the company was a minor Proskauer Rose client. New York-based Proskauer had done work for Towers for about eight years at the time, but “their fees always put them in the smaller client range,” said Albert, a New York-based partner at the firm. “Now they’re one of our major and illustrious clients,” Albert said. “The key to the whole thing was coming up with a specific plan.” Many firms point to such client service teams-groups of lawyers associated with a particular client who meet internally to strategize and discuss the client’s needs-as a key revenue growth strategy. About 70% of law firms used client teams in 2006, up from 58% in 2005, according to a BTI Consulting Group Inc. survey of 120 top-revenue firms. (Most firms were from the AmLaw 200 list of the nation’s highest-revenue firms compiled by The American Lawyer, an affiliate of The National Law Journal .) Focusing on important clients helps firms beat their competition and respond the way clients want them to, said Michael Rynowecer, president of Wellesley, Mass.-based BTI. The best-run teams can generate a 20% increase in annual fees from the client, he added. “The chances of your success go up when you get the clients involved in the process,” Rynowecer said. Better management of client relationships also improves client loyalty, and client teams are a prime way to build stronger ties, said consultant Susan Saltonstall Duncan, president of law firm consulting company Rainmaking Oasis Inc. in Madison, Conn. Pitching a plan At Proskauer, the firm pitched a plan to Stamford, Conn.-based Towers Perrin and formed a client service team of about a dozen lawyers. The team holds quarterly strategy meetings, and Proskauer’s relationship with Towers has evolved from pension consulting and employee benefits work to include corporate deal and insurance work, Albert said. “In most law firms, I would be considered the relationship partner,” Albert said. “If you want to grow a client, I believe the best way is to step out of the way on a day-to-day basis, not have your ego in it so much that you have to have control of the client.” Other successful client teams focus on equally notable clients. The client team roster at Houston-based Vinson & Elkins, for example, includes the Blockbuster Inc. video rental chain along with Shell Oil Co. in Houston, and its parent Royal Dutch Shell PLC of the Netherlands. The Blockbuster team meets monthly to discuss Dallas-based Blockbuster’s business, and weekly when there are pressing legal matters, said team leader Rob Walters, a partner in the firm’s Dallas office. The dozen-lawyer team, which began about five years into Vinson & Elkins’ decade-long relationship with Blockbuster, helped the firm maintain strong ties with Blockbuster even when the former general counsel departed about a year ago, Walters said. Vinson & Elkins was first hired to work on Blockbuster’s antitrust litigation, but it now assists the company with divestitures and acquisitions. Vinson & Elkins lawyers have also worked at Blockbuster to fill temporary vacancies in the company’s legal department. “We do far and away the lion’s share of their legal work,” Walters said. Vinson & Elkins’ Shell team has also increasingly formalized its activities through an e-mail distribution list and meetings with a core group of 20 lawyers who regularly work on Shell matters, said Shell’s Vinson & Elkins liaison, Marcia Backus, who is also co-administrative partner of the firm’s Houston office. Backus credits the team with helping to expand the firm’s class action litigation and ship financing work with Shell during the last couple of years. “There’s less of a learning curve, you get to know Shell’s business and how they like to do things,” Backus said. Firms are increasingly viewing client teams as a business-development tool, said Mozhgan Mizban, a San Francisco-based partner with the Zeughauser Group legal consulting team. In the past, firms used teams to staff litigation or specific client matters, but competitive pressures are shifting the approach to ongoing groups focused on specific clients and their business. “What matters a lot to clients is client service, so law firms are thinking about how they can more strategically represent clients, not just by representing their legal matter at hand, but having a more proactive relationship,” Mizban said. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s client team for Valero Energy Corp. leveraged the firm’s labor and employment work for the San Antonio-based oil refiner starting in 2003 to class action work, international law and transactional work. Besides meeting regularly and exchanging information in a secure “electronic room,” the client team periodically seeks feedback from the client, said Akin San Antonio labor and employment partner Shannon Schmoyer. “It has been a huge advantage in providing the ability to cross-sell and introduce them to other people in the firm,” Schmoyer said. “[It also] provided us an opportunity to get to know different people at this client at different levels.”

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