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The late 1990s and early 2000s were boom years for law firms as clients added dozens or even hundreds of firms to their portfolios. They thought it would allow them to cherry-pick the best legal talent in any given specialty and create competition among firms that would drive down costs. But what looked great in theory turned out for many to be a management headache that produced little real savings. So today, the boom has gone bust. Clients are taking the knife to their unwieldy rosters of law firms and paring back to a more manageable number of outside resources with whom they have more extensive relationships. Clients also are looking around to see if there is something better out there. More business, especially sizable pieces of business, is up for grabs these days than at any time in my recollection. This means that law firms can avoid the first round of cuts yet ultimately lose their place to a firm that wasn’t even in the original mix. Clearly, these are challenging times for law firms seeking to avoid the client’s chopping block. But the task need not be as daunting as it first seems. As a partner, and as part of the management team, I’ve played a hands-on role in retaining — and, yes, sometimes losing — clients. I have learned that, to secure a spot on the short list, firms must excel at four basic tasks that drive client satisfaction:

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