Any relationship counselor will tell you that good communication is crucial to a thriving partnership. As with couples, sometimes legal departments and their outside counsel aren’t on the same page. A recent survey by ALM Legal Intelligence (ALI), a sibling organization of, sought to identify disconnects in the collaboration process between law firms and their corporate clients.

The survey findings were published in a whitepaper titled “Meeting Client Expectations? The Hidden Secret for Improved Satisfaction.” A copy of the full report, sponsored by Microsystems, is available for download here.

The survey was conducted online between July 9 and August 6 of last year. Half of the 118 in-house respondents surveyed were employed by companies earning $1 billion or more annually. Of the 107 law firm respondents to the survey, 80 percent were from mid- to large-size firms.

In today’s fiercely competitive environment, outside counsel must constantly seek new ways to provide client services. According to the report, a major component of satisfying corporate clients is being able to consistently deliver high-quality documents—and doing so in the manner the client prefers. For example, 63 percent of legal departments said they prefer using Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” to communicate changes, while that method was only preferred by 44 percent of law firms.

Failing to meet expectations when it comes to document quality and delivery can by itself be a deal breaker for corporate clients. More than half of in-house respondents (51 percent) said they had terminated an outside firm for sub-par performance in this area.

Interestingly, only 3 percent of law firm respondents indicated having been “fired” for failing to meet document quality and delivery expectations. According to the report, the disconnect shows that when firms have been terminated, for this reason or any other, they may not know why they were let go.

The ALI survey suggests that firms capable of rising to the occasion—i.e., improving the quality and delivery of legal work product while simultaneously keeping down fees—can thrive in the current market. The report offers ways to improve collaboration, including using manpower more efficiently and making better use of technology to overcome hurdles in the collaborative process.

The report identifies these five document exchange and review essentials for firms to keep in mind:

1. Deliver High-Quality Documents in a Timelier Manner

Forty-four percent of legal departments said “appropriate document formatting for easy navigation” is a must. According to the report, firms can exceed client expectations by quickly turning around easily navigated documents that can be reviewed on multiple electronic device types, including smartphones and tablets.

2. Improve the Process of Reusing Prior Work Product and Incorporate a Multitude of Sources

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