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Legal Data & Metrics

Legal Talent Deep Dives: How just 3 stand-out lawyers can result in a 4-fold increase in firms’ share of legal spend

Gregg Wirth  Content Manager / Thomson Reuters Institute / Thomson Reuters

Gregg Wirth  Content Manager / Thomson Reuters Institute / Thomson Reuters

Just three stand-out lawyers on a firm’s roster can make a great deal of difference to clients and can lead to a four-fold increase in the portion of clients’ legal spend the firm might gain


In a new blog series, “Legal Talent Deep Dives”, we will examine the data pointing to several strategies that law firms can pursue to increase their bottom line


The impact of the pandemic continues to heavily influence the way we work today, and within the legal industry, these changes are still strongly felt. Now, many law firms are looking to leverage any lessons they can from the past two years to better craft successful post-pandemic work strategies, even as the market for legal talent continues to be frothy.

Thomson Reuters’ recent legal talent research closely examines various ways that law firms can build a talent strategy in the post-pandemic era that will elevate their lawyers while increasing efficiency and enhancing their effectiveness in the eyes of their clients.

The market research study takes an in-depth look at more than 2,400 stand-out lawyers — those nominated as such by clients in Thomson Reuters’ ongoing, randomly sampled global Sharplegal survey — and what makes them stand out in clients’ minds. Indeed, one important finding demonstrated that having just three stand-out lawyers on a firm’s roster can make a great deal of difference to clients and can lead to a four-fold increase in the portion of clients’ legal spend the firm might gain.

Further, the research revealed what can push stand-out lawyers to leave their current firms, what can be done to retain them, and how engagement, culture, and compensation can make a great deal of difference in firms’ talent strategy, especially around retention efforts.

The difference stand-out lawyers make

Indeed, the research showed that as one key way to optimize revenue from existing clients, law firms should strive to have at least three stand-out lawyers on the client team. Such notable and recognized lawyers are capable of driving up the share of clients’ legal spend four-fold, the research revealed. These stand-out lawyers are characterized by notable technical expertise and superior commercial, service, and client relationship skills.

legal talent
Source: Thomson Reuters Institute

Clearly, these client-nominated stand-out lawyers can make a difference to a firm’s bottom line, given their attractiveness to a large majority of legal clients, but the question remains: How can firms boost their bank of stand-out lawyers?

However, this strategy doesn’t just mean adding to the number of stand-out lawyers a firm might employ, but also includes ensuring these lawyers’ visibility across those client accounts that have the greatest potential for growth. Given the crucial nature of the stand-out lawyer strategy, law firms need to pay special attention to the types of skills and qualities that clients prize above all others; and, then logically, should be seeking, nurturing, and retaining those lawyers who demonstrate the ability and talent in these areas. For example, firms might want to guide their training and career development plans to recognize and reward the right qualities and assets, beyond a simple focus on books of business or large originations.

This kind of understanding can give firms insight into the crucial symbiosis between their high-performers and the support that firms give them, making it more likely that additional lawyers can move into the stand-out category.

What makes a lawyer stand out to clients?

legal talent
Source: Thomson Reuters Institute

It will come as little surprise that to stand out, a lawyer needs notable technical strength. However, law firms should look beyond simple technical expertise to understand what makes an individual lawyer stand out over others, according to the latest data. In fact, technical prowess has become a sort of table stakes for many clients, and a lawyer without strong technical skills — along with legal expertise and good communication traits — may fall behind others who are similarly situation, but demonstrating these commons skills, in the eyes of clients.

Indeed, it becomes evident that real stand-out lawyers are distinctive because, in combination with their technical competence, they offer business savvy advice, deliver exceptional service, or integrate well with the client team. Between one-quarter and one-third of clients cited each of these stand-out factors in our Sharplegal survey.

Yet, specialized individual ability can make a difference as well — almost one-fifth of clients reported nominating a stand-out lawyer because of a working style, such as diligence, that is particularly valued by many clients, especially those involved in litigation and M&A.

Most importantly, law firms should seek to understand what their clients want to see in terms of the skills and attributes of stand-out lawyers and move to infuse those components into the talent development efforts of the firm, including the firm’s mentoring and sponsorship program, its business development training, and its firm marketing activities. These factors should also be part of firms’ measurable performance metrics and compensation reviews.

Remember too, that firm management can encourage better performance in their lawyers by focusing on recognition and appreciation of the efforts and contributions made by individual lawyers. Even an informal acknowledgement of the work of firm lawyers on both a day-to-day basis and for more substantial achievements contributes a lot to both cementing an inclusive culture and retention. Seemingly small changes — even a simple, Thank you! —  can build positive feelings that ensure your firm can keep its most prized lawyers.


You can learn more about how your firm can increase its base of stand-out lawyers as part of its overall talent and client service strategies, here.

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