Continuing the blog series on “Legal client feedback” Robin Saphra, Group General Counsel of Colt (telecommunications, IT and data centres with 65 lawyers in his team and a £12m legal budget) shared his views on relationships with professional service firms at the September 2014 Professional Marketing Forum Conference:

  • Three years ago I instigated a process that resulted with us having a single law firm relationship. When we started we were using 120 law firms. I invited them to a day when I would provide background about the business and explain my vision for how I wanted to work with law firms. Only 45 firms turned up. After the session – where I set out the terms and prices, 20 firms dropped out of the process.
  • The key thing for a law firm is to commit to investing time in getting to know us – understanding the business, knowing whether we want long detailed letters or snappy advice, configuring the service to our needs and putting things right after mistakes.
  • There should be a fixed price relationship as that provides an incentive to the law firm to get the right resources to us. If the arrangement is open ended, law firms just continue to provide advice.
  • There needs to be a cultural assessment of hired staff – a law firm needs to know what is important to us, especially in an international context. Those close to a particularly geography get it. If giving advice for a faraway office it may be technically right but pitched wrong.
  • Several months ago I was “wowed” when I visited the Riverview Law (note that we do not use their services) offices in The Wirral. It was not an expensive office but it was in a good location for staff – it was a legal services business with 30-40 enthusiastic young lawyers who were passionate about what they were doing. There were paperless desks and all screens displayed a CRM system. They take on school leavers and train them as paralegals and then lawyers so they understand customer management from all perspectives. There was a real buzz about the place and I believe this to be the new face of the legal services.
  • I am interested in firms who produce quality work and output and who offer a more efficient way of working – Firms who have an appetite to absorb more work on a low cost, well-managed and customer oriented way.
  • While the best lawyers seek City law firm training contracts, they are not taught enough about client money. The best lawyers are often trained in other roles first – customer service, strategy, engineering etc. I think the SRA should change the training requirements and that all lawyers should be trained in industry (I happen to agree with this view – see
  • I was impressed with Accutrainee who really understood my challenges and presented a solution that covers regulatory issues and offered keen trainees. I agreed to a meeting with them based on a very short email.
  • I have noted one or two barristers sets who actively market their services with conferences and seminars. They have specific expertise but I don’t think any barristers have been successful in making me think differently about how I use counsel – I still ask solicitors to recommend them.

Alongside Robin on the panel was Beth Wallace, a professional procurement consultant who has worked with law firms who added the following points:

  • Procurement helps by having regular discussions with stakeholders to learn about their strategy and needs, to help with negotiating strategies and to deliver value to the business through supplier relationships.
  • Procurement should be able to save an organisation three to five percent year on year.
  • Procurement should spend two days with suppliers to learn more about the market.
  • In one instance there was a 20 million Euro spend on legal services which was spent equally on internal and external resources – our role was to find more creative ways to spend the money including what might be outsourced or taken in-house. Nine years ago there were only nine lawyers in-house and now there are 35. Procurement advises on make or buy decisions.
  • Our role is to support the business user – to balance keeping the internal customer happy and the external supplier compliant with the agreed terms through a good, fair and objective process.
  • I was “wowed” with a firm during the 18 month negotiations for a £650 million contract – it took a lot of effort and they proved that they could be a good partner with joint goals and behaving as part of our business.
  • I am impressed when law firms spend a lot of time with procurement explaining what they do and building the relationship.

I have produced a full conference report of the 2014 PM Forum conference which will appear in a future edition of PM Forum magazine