Page 7 - ILO Client Choice Guide 2012

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6
ILO Client Choice Guide 2012
the competition department of Siemens in
Germany. “It’s important that the advice they
give is helpful – not only for the lawyers in the
company, but also for the businesspeople.
“The internal benchmark faced by the legal
department is, ‘Do I make the life of the business
people easier or do I make it more complicated?’,
and that is the same criterion by which we judge
our law firms. If we retain an external law firm,
then it is usually with regard to a complex issue
and we want them to provide solutions, not to
make the situation more complicated.”
“The internal benchmark
faced by the legal
department is, ‘Do I
make the life of the
business people easier
or do I make it more
complicated?’”
While lawyers or firms that continue to
disappoint are unlikely to be instructed in the
future, Heckenberger suggests that this response
is reasonable only if there is an open dialogue
about both what is expected in the first place
and what may have gone awry in its delivery.
That is why it is vital for law firms to create space
for such interchanges within their operational
systems, and to foster a culture that ensures
all lawyers working with a particular client
understand exactly what is required of them.
A number of firms have thus reaped
considerable benefits from augmenting the
traditional role of relationship partner, diverting
more resources to internal communications so
that everyone working on a particular account
is kept up to speed and encouraging all those
involved to forge their own relationships with
the client.
“There is always going to be a key role for the
relationship partner,” explains Tuer, “but it doesn’t
stop there. You have to build connections on a
variety of levels and then ensure that the team is
talking to one another. That is a critical element
within all of this – you have to put the effort in as
a law firm to have the entire team speaking with
each other, so that we can provide that
coordinated advice.”
In this respect, those committed to client
care also seem intent on shaking off the image
of law firms as simply a collection of independent
professionals brought together in a marriage of
convenience. Indeed, it is this very realisation that
collectively, things can be accomplished that
might not otherwise be possible that can help
firms in addressing one of the other major client
service issues that often crops up: billing.
Counting costs
“While I appreciate a lot of what is being said in
the legal press about client care, in the market
we’re in right now, what it ultimately boils down
to is fees,” spells out Nicole Philips, senior vice
president and head of legal at the Al Salam Bank
in Bahrain. “Given the fact that we’ve had the
combined effects of the global financial crisis,
followed by a wave of political unrest in the
Middle East and the growing mess in Europe,
it really comes down to the bottom line, so we
need a strong enough relationship with the key
firms that we work with to be able to turn around
to them and say, ‘That’s too much; you’ll need
to cut it right back if you want our business.’”
Philips acknowledges that firms may find it
difficult to move away from their tried-and-tested
method of calculating their worth on an hourly
rate basis, but she is by no means alone in
suggesting that something needs to be done as
clients’ budgets become increasingly stretched
and lack the flex to accommodate unexpectedly
high legal bills.
“The climate over the last few years has
made companies realise that law firm costs aren’t
immune from budgeting cycles,” explains Jelich.
“They have to be understood just like any other
costs of the business and have to be managed.
It is not so much a matter of how we can save
a few dollars; what I really want is to be able to
get some kind of predictability built into the run
rates, so that I can manage and control costs.
“One of the things I find surprising is the
suggestion from some firms that if I give them
all my work, they’ll be able to work out a value-
based billing structure,” Jelich continues. “But
Who cares wins