In December 2020, Burford Director Christine Azar directed questions concerning law firm trends to a respected group of law firm leaders. Their perspectives are excerpted and gathered below.
2020 has been a turbulent year for businesses across many industries. What has been the most significant challenge or concern you’ve observed among your clients?
Frank Ryan: The first thing everyone is concerned about is making sure their people are safe and secure. That is something that we have been managing internally and have seen all our clients managing. The other issue is being able to expediently respond to clients at a very sophisticated level to satisfy the needs they have in times of pressure and stress is critically important. Now more than ever, clients have needed us by their side, prepared to help them resolve whatever issues that they were dealing with.
Jason Peltz: The constant state of uncertainty has been the largest concern we have observed. High-stakes commercial litigation by its nature has a good amount of uncertainty, but the curveballs experienced this year increased the uncertainty to new heights. With many courts closed or operating on reduced schedules and jury trial schedules continued, our clients faced challenges with budgeting, setting internal expectations and of course many faced and continue to face significant spending pressure. Many of our law department counterparts have been necessarily pulled away to address the urgent business and legal issues associated with the pandemic. We have worked hard to ensure that they can attend to these new challenges, confident that we have their litigation concerns well covered.
Jason Leckerman: The challenge of uncertainty has been the common theme for our clients of all sizes and across all industries. Companies that initially worked to deal with operational uncertainties created by the Covid-19 pandemic were soon confronted with equally important, but more fundamental issues relating to social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion. In response, clients initially focused on the immediate concerns of budgets and controlling expenses, as they took stock of services they truly needed to run their business. As everyone embraced remote work, clients also focused on improving technology infrastructure, the legal and business implications of instituting a remote workforce and employee well-being. In many ways, clients’ attention to technology and the needs of their workforces enabled them to meaningfully respond to the social justice issues we have seen since the summer.
High-stakes commercial litigation by its nature has a good amount of uncertainty, but the curveballs experienced this year increased the uncertainty to new heights. Jason Peltz
While there has been some good news relating to the pandemic, when a return to “normal” will happen (or what it will look like) is still uncertain. What are the most important ways for firms to evolve to meet the evolving needs of clients, and what’s most important to your firm?
Jason Peltz: Most important to our firm is client success. If our clients do not succeed, neither do we. Our entire model is built on this simple premise of aligned objectives and incentives. By extension, maintaining our team focus, with clients serving as an integral part of our team, remains vital. This is always how we have worked but it has become even more important given current circumstances. In terms of firms evolving to meet evolving client needs, the key is teamwork—knowing what success means to each client, understanding the challenges each client faces, acting as an invested partner and adapting to meet each client’s needs.
Frank Ryan: One of the things that we learned during the pandemic was how much more quickly we could move and how fast we could change driven by the needs of the day. I think that law firms—especially our law firm—will be much more attentive to being agile and able to move quickly. There are things we can do at a pace that we never imagined we could have done before and that is by virtue of what we learned during the pandemic. I think clients are going to want that even more out of law firms: Being more agile, more nimble, more responsive and able to move more quickly. That is without question something that I believe will be increasingly important in the months and years to come.
Jason Leckerman: Clients’ current needs include leveraging technology, addressing disruption, anticipating the next challenge and ensuring they are maximizing the value they derive from relationships with outside counsel. Although these areas have been a focus for many in recent years, they became acute in 2020. For law firms, this means that we need to proactively communicate with our clients, demonstrate an understanding of the impact of current issues to their businesses and industries, provide legal services seamlessly across platforms and think creatively about cost and fee arrangements. At the same time, given the challenges our clients are facing, we need to be hyper-focused on efficiency in delivering our services.
I think clients are going to want that even more out of law firms: Being more agile, more nimble, more responsive and able to move more quickly. Frank Ryan
At Ballard, we quickly adjusted to the remote environment. While delivering value beyond excellent legal service has been a core focus of the firm for some time, that adaptability and the pace of change has enabled us to change the way we work with clients to better align with client needs and the demands on their schedules. Through focused outreach, particularly those in highly impacted industries, we have continued developing innovative value-add approaches beyond the fee-for-service model. For example, over the past year we have developed robust online resources, such as our Navigating the New Normal Business Resources and Presidential Transition Center to help keep clients abreast of breaking developments and strategies to help with businesses. We also have offered clients an array of free CLEs and customized trainings to help their teams navigate and prepare for these challenges. The common thread has been to offer timely, forward-thinking information that is direct, practical and actionable. This evolution naturally comes with the growth of our Client Value and Innovation Team, which focuses on complimenting the exemplary legal service we provide clients by offering predictability, value and efficiency, and identifying appropriate opportunities to share the risk with clients. The team works with the lawyers and our clients to deliver transparency and efficiency in the way we price and manage our engagements and to provide information and analysis tailored to our clients' business needs.
Read part II of this roundtable
Jason Leckerman is Chair of Ballard Spahr’s litigation department with a focus on antitrust and competition, product liability, and commercial litigation. At Ballard Spahr, he is a member of the Expanded Board, Partner-in-Charge of the litigation mentoring program in the Philadelphia office, and is Partner-in-Charge of the United Way Campaign.
Jason Peltz is a managing partner at Bartlit Beck with a national litigation practice, regularly handling cases before state and federal courts, arbitrators, and mediators across the country. He has extensive experience in a wide variety of complex commercial litigation, including matters involving breach of contract, patent infringement, product liability, breach of fiduciary duty, and deceptive and unfair trade practices
Frank Ryan is the Global Co-Chair and Global Co-CEO of DLA Piper. He provides legal and strategic advice to domestic and multinational clients who draw on his experience in high-stakes litigation, intellectual property, media and sports, complex commercial and sovereign related issues. Clients turn to him as a go-to strategist and litigator for their most important matters.