2022 saw law firms move past the pandemic into a more client-focused service environment

REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Over the past year, the Thomson Reuters Institute published its regular column, which offered ways for law firms to adjust to the changing legal market while keeping squarely focused on providing high-value client service.

Looking over the columns for the year, several key themes emerge, such as how firms can best move past the constrictions of the global pandemic and begin to address other challenges like evolving technology and the shifting world economy. Other columns offers firms pathways to improving firms’ practices, increasing efficiency, and becoming a true partner to their clients; while others offered key takeaways, gathered from top legal clients, on the overall legal market.

Thriving in a post-pandemic world

As 2022 began, it seem that the worst of the global pandemic was behind us and law firms and their corporate clients were moving toward what could be seen as a more normal, or at least traditional, way of doing business.

Several Insights in Action columns explored these developments, looking at how chief talent officers within law firms were dealing with the hot labor market, especially around issues such as securing associate retention and staying on track for return-to-office plans.

In fact, several best practices emerged as to how to better retain key talent, including: i) clearly defining how the lawyer’s role fits with the firm’s goals and what lawyers need to achieve to ensure their own progression; ii) offering lawyers more control and flexibility as to what, when, and how they work; and iii) supporting lawyers’ well-being, including offering training and health-related programs.

In fact, concerns over talent continued to resound within the legal industry (and elsewhere) throughout the year. As such, several columns addressed how firms can best utilize or leverage the resources they have to provide the kind of training, work/life balance, and employee well-being for which many lawyers and staff members were clamoring.

How to address key challenges

One column published in October detailed how law firms can best address the reasons that younger associates and others leave the firm they’re currently with to go elsewhere, either to another law firm or in-house to a corporate law department. While being provided with opportunities for career development and growth was cited by many lawyers as strongly related to the satisfaction they feel with their current firm, surprisingly, compensation was not cited as such a strong correlation.

Other concerns, such as being treated with fairness and respect; feeling confident in the firm’s overall strategy and in firm leadership; and having the support of higher-level colleagues, such as partners all were ranked as more important than compensation in lawyers’ decisions to either leave or stay at their current firms, the column noted.

And that is good news for law firms because addressing those concerns is much less costly than simply increasing compensation, even if it can be a bigger challenge. However, throughout the year Insights in Action didn’t shy away from the bigger challenges that law firms were facing and instead offered ways firms could best overcome these hurdles.

For example, a recent column described how offering clients quality legal services is no longer a differentiator that law firms can count on to separate themselves from their competition; rather, offering quality legal service has become an expectation on the part of clients.

That means, as Rachel Heathcote of Thomson Reuters Market Insights, pointed out, is that clients are looking for more from their outside law firms, and the data shows that such issues as responsiveness, expertise, and business-savvy all have increased as firm differentiators in the minds of clients.

“What it shows to me is that everybody is doing service really well, so nobody is standing out for their service — it’s not a differentiator, it’s just table stakes,” Heathcote explains. “So what we have to be careful about if you’re a law firm is that if you are delivering poor service, then there’s a danger of losing out to competitors that are delivering high service.”

Again, the data shows that clients may be seeking more active business value out of their law firm engagements rather than simply a good client service relationship, she adds.

What the legal market revealed in 2022

One of the key values of the Insights in Action columns were their take on the legal market overall and the insights law firms could gain from the market data and client surveys.

For example, one mid-year column addresses the seeming disconnect between clients and those lawyers they designate as a stand-out performer as to where they see the value in their relationship. The column expanded on a survey that had queried clients on what qualities in those stand-out lawyers makes them truly stand out; and, querying the stand-out lawyers themselves, on what they think clients value in them.

While clients rated lawyers’ expertise and technical acumen as top qualities, the lawyers themselves cited their service and close relationship with the clients as their top draws. Clearly, as the column noted, there is room here for law firms to shore up what their lawyers can offer by focusing on what clients are saying is most valuable to them.

Other columns explored other critical subjects, such as how clients are exhibiting growing optimism about their future legal spending, despite the current economic pessimism; and how law firms based in the United States have managed to gain market share in the United Kingdom’s legal marketplace.

Looking ahead to 2023 and beyond, the Thomson Reuters Institute’s Insights in Action column will continue to offer data-driven analysis and market-revealing insights that can greatly help law firms navigate the often-choppy waters of the global legal market.

Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias. Thomson Reuters Institute is owned by Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.

The Thomson Reuters Institute brings together people from across the legal, corporate, tax & accounting, and government communities to ignite conversation and debate, make sense of the latest events and trends, and provide essential guidance on the opportunities and challenges facing their world today.