Lest any of us get too comfortable in our swivel chairs, a new report from Michael B. Rynowecer, president of the BTI Consulting Group, indicates that in 2018 – despite spending more on outside legal counsel than ever before – clients are using fewer outside firms than ever.

In a September issue of The Mad Clientist –the blog of BTI — Rynowecer reported that his company’s survey of more than 350 law-firm clients showed that “22% to 30% of clients are cutting, or about to cut, their law firm rosters. This sets a new record and is double the prior average of 13% of clients looking to cut back at any one point.”

The clients BTI surveyed attributed the cutbacks to unsatisfactory work and poor service on the part of firms, combined with the increasing complexity of legal work. “For clients, fewer law firms translates into better risk management,” Rynowecer says. He predicts that clients’ primary and secondary firms will benefit the most from the shift to smaller rosters, although these firms too will need to demonstrate their ongoing value. “Fringe players” are the ones most likely to be shown the door.

These clients are planning reductions from hundreds or dozens of firms to fewer than ten. – Michael B. Rynowecer

Collaboration within firms and client service will be key to success in the new, more streamlined future, Rynowecer suggests. His blog includes valuable pointers for firms keen to remain in the good graces of their clients.

His tips may also serve as inspiration for firms looking to supplant existing firms on those same rosters, where there may indeed be opportunity: BTI found that only about a third of clients recommended their current firms to others.

Does the shift to smaller rosters present an opportunity or a death knell? It seems that at least in part, it may be up to law firms to determine their own fates.

I am always interested in hearing your thoughts on any matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.