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Legal Data & Metrics

Legal Talent Deep Dives: Why do stand-out lawyers think they stand out to clients?

Gregg Wirth  Content Manager / Thomson Reuters Institute / Thomson Reuters

· 5 minute read

Gregg Wirth  Content Manager / Thomson Reuters Institute / Thomson Reuters

· 5 minute read

Law firms go to great lengths to determine what their clients see as valued attributes within the lawyers they hire, but what do these stand-out lawyers see as valuable within themselves?

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

As law firms worldwide try to move past the deepest impacts of the pandemic, many are looking for ways to use the lessons of the recent crisis to create improved work strategies that will reflect the value they place on their best lawyers.

To this end, firms will go to great lengths to determine which professional attributes are viewed most highly by clients in the lawyers they hire; however, this leaves one side of the equation unanswered: What are the most valuable attributes that lawyers see within themselves?

To provide a better answer to this, Thomson Reuters’ recent legal talent research illuminated several pathways that law firms can follow to arrive at a successful talent strategy in the post-pandemic era, including determining and enhancing the value of their top lawyers. Our Stellar Performance 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.

Previously, we saw how 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. The research also revealed a lot of characteristics about stand-out lawyers themselves, including what can push them 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’ retention efforts.

What makes a stand-out lawyer stand out?

To get a better idea of the question of a stand-out lawyer’s value, firms usually first seek to ascertain what makes those particular lawyers stand-out in the minds of clients. More revealing, however, may be determining whether these are the same high-quality characteristics these lawyers see within themselves.

Clients tend to view their stand-out lawyers as valuable if they can offer proactive, business-savvy advice; deliver exceptional client service; and integrate well within the client’s current legal team. And while the results are similar to that of clients, stand-out lawyers’ views of their own ability differ in emphasis in that they are most likely to believe that service factors strongly drive their stand-out status.

Source: Thomson Reuters

In our recent survey, almost two-thirds (64%) of stand-out lawyers said it was their service ability — specifically around areas of responsiveness, service quality, and communications — that made them stand out in their clients’ minds. In fact, that response rose eight percentage points compared to last year’s survey, a greater climb than any other response.

Interestingly, attributes such as having a strong business acumen and keen legal expertise were ranked much lower — 49% and 38%, respectively, than was service, even though clients themselves ranked these attributes much higher when naming stand-out lawyers. It is also worth noting that having a close relationship with the client was cited by 56% of stand-out lawyers as a reason for their status; however, that response dropped by five percentage points since last year.

There is likely a logical reason for all this. Lawyers, even those with highly regarded expertise and skill, are surrounded every day by other technical experts and legal specialists. Thus, they are much less likely than their clients to perceive their legal expertise as the source of their unique value. Rather, they see their ability to deliver beyond the core technical offering — excelling on service and relationship factors — as what sets them apart.

As stand-out lawyers strive to give clients more beyond clients’ expected norm of technical expertise, the lawyers begin to expand their own horizons by, for example, moving into areas of specialized knowledge.

According to these lawyers, this growing shift in the importance of their service factors reflects clients’ expectations in the post-pandemic world, as stand-out lawyers are generally very well-tuned to what matters most to their clients and must continually adapt to accommodate changes in demand.

If you examine these lawyers’ perception deeper, it sheds some interesting light on what lawyers themselves see as is expected of them as lawyers, and where, in their minds, their true value lies. As stand-out lawyers strive to give clients more beyond clients’ expected norm of technical expertise, the lawyers begin to expand their own horizons by, for example, moving into areas of specialized knowledge.

It makes sense. By seeing their technical and legal expertise as mere table stakes, at least among other lawyers, stand-out lawyers are striving for more — honing their existing skills and acquiring additional abilities — in order to better serve their clients. This then creates a mutually beneficial relationship between client and lawyer that serves both sides well.

But what does this mean for law firms? These survey results should give law firms a great starting point to better understand the qualities that they should seek and nurture as they hire and retain what clients see as the most-valued types of lawyers. In addition, it would be wise for firm leaders to better understand where their lawyers see their own value, and then offer ways in which they can enhance or expand that value.

Pursuing a strategy such as this would allow law firms to join in on this beneficial relationship by giving clients more of the kind of lawyers they want, while pushing their best lawyers to make themselves even better.

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

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