The American Lawyer has a story this week identifying the primary reasons that clients fire law firms, based on a new report from U.K. legal market research firm Acritas,. Though answers varied among the general counsels Acritas interviewed, responses tended to align with one of these four motivations:
- The firm was too expensive.
- The advice offered was bad or the firm lacked expertise.
- The firm offered poor service.
- The firm lost the relationship attorney.
As Aric Press points out in his piece, it is the last of these that is perhaps the most frustrating. Every other category relates to a performance failure – the work was bad, or at least not good enough to justify the cost. But when a client fires a firm because of the loss of the relationship attorney, the problem is not performance failure. On the contrary, it appears the client was happy with the performance of the departing attorney, but didn’t trust the firm to maintain that success in the future. This amounts to what Press calls an “unforced error”:
Skill players can’t afford to hurt themselves, and that includes law firms. The clearest example of this boneheaded phenomenon—letting a client leave when a partner retires—was cited repeatedly. “The primary attorney who had good industry knowledge and knew us well is retiring,” said a billion-dollar manufacturing client. “They haven’t done a good job of transitioning, so I feel our work is at risk.” The client went elsewhere.
In an environment where major law firm clients are a precious commodity, it is unfortunate that firms lose clients simply by failing to plan for the retirement of the relationship partner. This is not to say that succession planning is easy – if there were a simple fix for this problem, more law firms would have figured it out by now. But of the four reasons for firing identified by Acritas, this is the one that can hit even law firms with great attorneys and excellent work product, which is why it’s such a shame.
Posted by Emily Fisher