GCs dissatisfied with law firms' flexible resourcing, technology says report

Law firms should leverage technology to improve responsiveness and help clients extract value from data, says new report from Simmons & Simmons

A significant minority of general counsel are dissatisfied with their external counsels’ flexible resourcing, technology offerings and response times, according to new research commissioned by City firm Simmons & Simmons.  

The ‘Next Gen Solutions’ survey of more than 500 GCs at UK and international companies found that most expect their external legal counsel to offer a flexible workforce, advanced technology and advice on how to use data to achieve a competitive advantage. 

However, a significant number are dissatisfied with what their external counsel are delivering, with more than one quarter (26%) reporting that law firms’ technology falls short and one in five frustrated with slow response times. 

Asked what services from law firms were important to their legal operations, 59% agreed that subscription-based, self-service legal products and services were important, a proportion that rose to 67% for flexible legal resourcing from a law firm – such as project-based lawyers, paralegals and project managers. The majority (65%) also valued advice on data strategy, structure and use.

However, nearly three in ten (29%) stated that there was a lack of specialist products or knowledge offered and a quarter said they experienced ‘a lack of flexibility’ in the resourcing currently offered by their external counsel. More than one in four (26%) also felt law firms have inadequate technology to meet their demands – rising to 31% of businesses surveyed in the healthcare and life sciences sector. 

‘It’s accepted wisdom that two, seemingly contradictory, things can be true at the same time,’ the report said. ‘This is what the results from our first Next Gen Solutions Survey show us: the roadmap to meeting the unmet needs and challenges of GCs is simple and complex.

‘Simple, because law firms need to deliver on what we already know: tech and client experience has and continues to represent a solvable top challenge; complex, because law firms need to be highly tuned to the needs of the sector, size and location of the clients that they serve, recognising the mutual challenges but accommodating and responding to the diverse and evolving needs by reference to the individual clients.’ 

It added that the findings ‘won’t make easy reading’ for firms that demonstrated their ability to rapidly accelerate digital integration and adoption during the Covid-19 pandemic, but ‘whatever we are all doing, Simmons included, we need to do it better and quickly if we want to close the gap on GC need.’

Acknowledging that the findings on technology may well have a part to play, the report suggested that for law firms, making the grade on responsiveness was about doing the simple things well. It recommended firms agree a clear scope and plan with clients, keep them informed of progress, ensure they are engaged early when things change and make sure there are no last minute surprises on costs. 

It added that while individual relationships with partners and the contribution they and their teams make remain important to the success of GCs' businesses, ‘it is becoming increasingly clear that GCs are expecting law firms to offer more diversified capabilities and offerings to help them solve the complex ‘business’ (rather than just ‘legal’) problems they face.’

The report also highlighted the opportunity for law firms in helping clients extract value from their businesses’ data, which it noted was still out of the immediate reach for the overwhelming majority of GCs, with the mean expecting to do so in two-and-a-half years. 

‘The good news is that over half of respondents see this as a challenge that will be resolved within the 1-2 year time-frame, representing an opportunity for law firms to significantly impact and improve that trajectory and accelerate value extraction for the 30% whose time horizon is much longer term,’ it said.  

Ben McGuire, partner and managing director of Simmons’ legal services arm Solutions, commented: “Law firms can’t ignore the fact that nearly a third of businesses in some sectors are unhappy with their external legal counsel’s inadequate technology estate. 

“Equally, it is clear that all businesses – particularly those operating in the financial sector – now expect their law firms to provide a much broader set of products, services and capabilities to enhance the provision of legal advice and in support of their own legal operations.”

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