Guest post by Chris Green and Megan Jenkins, DLA Piper
In part one, we observed how more and more clients are explicitly requesting value-added services (VAS) in pitch invitations and relationship reviews. In this second post, we explore one firm’s strategy.
With the traditional legal model under threat, meeting client demands for cost-effective legal services is challenging, to say the least. At the root, what clients really want is good value – they want to know they have bought a little something more than legal advice. The good news is that law firms can give good value to clients through extra services that somewhat offset the cost of legal services.
DLA Piper Case Study
At DLA Piper, we have made VAS a key part of our client relationships. With dedicated client support functions in both KM and Marketing, we apply our international expertise to developing extra services that solve real business issues. Granted, as a global firm we have a full array of legal and business expertise and resources to draw on in designing and delivering VAS, but many of the services we will look at in this post can be adapted by smaller firms.
DLA Piper offers a range of online tools that help a business reduce risks, enhance collaboration, check cross-border legal issues, improve efficiency, and save money. These tools include deal rooms clients can share with third parties, webinar recordings, and interactive resources on key business themes like outsourcing.
One of our goals is to help the clients we work with look good when they are working with their own colleagues by making them aware of potential legal issues that affect their business. So, we offer an extensive program of training and events to give our clients the latest knowledge and help them demonstrably add value to their enterprises. In response to client feedback, we provide these programs in user-friendly, flexible formats, such as webinars. We also provide timely know-how through bulletins, blogs, and hotlines.
A Win-WIN Situation
With some key clients, we provide secondments and consultancy from various support teams, including KM. Our larger clients struggle with many of the business challenges we face, for example managing teams in multiple locations and sharing information effectively. Because in-house lawyers’ knowledge needs are quite similar to those of a firm’s lawyers, law firms can offer products and services that directly address in-house counsel’s concerns. Although some in-house legal teams are close in size to law firms, these teams typically get far less tailored support from their company given that they are not the focus of the clients’ business.
DLA Piper’s WIN (What In-house lawyers Need) program, which recently earned us the Financial Times Most Innovative Law Firms in Client Service Award, combines a series of events, checklists, online tools, and forums offering knowledge, support, and networking to address the technical, commercial, and personal challenges of practicing law in-house. Feedback from our clients has been excellent and many are now directly involved in developing the program to keep it relevant to them.
We continually review client needs and feedback, as well as monitor trends in the legal press and client requests, when tweaking existing and developing new tools and services. For instance, when our clients asked for more flexible training programs, we created a webinar service that pulls together recordings of DLA Piper’s experts across the globe.
Yet, our services matter only if our clients know about them and promotion needs to come primarily from the lawyers who work with our clients. Our lawyers can effectively promote our VAS to clients only if they become fully aware of and understand those services. Our Using Value Added Services to Solve Client Problems blog introduces and promotes best use of our client support services, such as VAS and account management. To encourage repeat visits, KM and Marketing commit to posting new content every two weeks. We encourage guest bloggers from other client support teams, including the wider KM team, Marketing’s client services and pitch teams, client account managers, partners, and IT’s client technology services team. Sharing examples of client support and feedback sparks ideas to help others build relationships with clients and breaks the broad range of VAS into manageable chunks for our busy colleagues to digest.
Making it easy for client partners to promote VAS and give clients relevant information is vital, so we have developed client-friendly introductions and email templates advising clients of frequently used services. This not only streamlines the process, but also ensures delivery of consistent messages. We create lists of cross-practice training topics and help client teams package these into bespoke training for clients. An internal collection of DLA Piper client training materials is maintained so new tailored training materials for clients can be produced quickly and easily.
Along with our blog, the firm intranet contains comprehensive information on all of our VAS, prominently displayed within the intranet’s client section. We also maintain and regularly update a VAS client brochure and accompanying internal guidance notes.
KM’s Crucial Role
The KM team understands what our colleagues need to improve their client relationships and offers solutions to suit them. KM works with Marketing and client relationship teams within the business to ensure that each client gets the most appropriate services. To continue providing a range of options, we try to fill more knowledge gaps by tapping into our geographic reach and involving legal and other professional experts.
To support individual client needs, we work closely with client relationship partners and marketing account managers. We engage with sector and client marketing teams to ensure we offer the best service to our key clients. Naturally, we work closely with IT to build out technology solutions, such as deal rooms and collaboration tools, for our clients; KM also benefits from IT’s marrying our system with our clients’ IT to provide coherent service.
The wider KM community within the firm alerts us to both client needs and ad hoc services that have cropped up that we could in turn offer to other clients. Professional support lawyers and research experts understand the current legal issues in their practice areas and help marketing repackage the information for client consumption.
Offering clients robust VAS brings many unexpected, intangible benefits. Developing VAS fosters new international and cross-team working relationships, both internally and with clients. Clients enjoy being involved in pilots and shaping future resources and services. People from different groups, sectors, and countries can be brought together, often for the first time, through VAS projects. Moreover, client-facing knowledge tools can supplement internal know-how, making internal collaboration more efficient.
The relatively small client KM team’s knowledge, though concentrated, is shared with client teams who are starting to develop their client relationships more intensively. Every client relationship develops over time and being able to say that, “Other clients in this sector use these services” can quicken the pace. Collaborating with clients on their needs is particularly powerful and allows us to devote our resources to developing new and valuable services together.
Client KM is now a standard part of pitches and we regularly recommend suitable services to client teams. We find that if a client relationship starts well, it generally develops well and this has a direct impact on the bottom line.
A variation on these two posts originally appeared in Legal Knowledge Management: Insight and Practice, Ark Group/Managing Partner, 2013.