April 10, 2013

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Legal Industry Focusing on Client Relationships, Work-Life Balance

Di Lewis

April 10, 2013

Although the economy is bouncing back, clients are still looking for more budget control and a secure relationship with their attorney, said a group of Utah lawyers at Utah Business magazine's legal roundtable Tuesday morning. More firms are also offering flexible work arrangements and compensation packages in response to younger attorneys’ focus on work-life balance.

While some of the attorneys said they were seeing requests for flat fees from clients, many said clients were simply requesting more frequent updates from the firm so they could control costs.

Paul Harman, Jones Waldo chairman, said, “What we've found is some of our larger clients have required each month that we provide them an estimate on what our fees are going to be on each matter so they can budget. We didn't have that requirement before the downturn.”

Other clients are looking to get what they see as the best value from their legal budget by not using younger lawyers, said Steven Clyde, vice president and director at Clyde Snow. Clients are insisting that senior lawyers be the ones doing the work, even though it may cost them more initially, because they think it's better work, Clyde said.

That can make it difficult for younger associates to gain enough experience, but Magleby & Greenwood Partner Peggy Tomsic said, “We've made a decision from a business standpoint to eat the cost of having young associates attend hearings and depositions. With the idea that if you pay up front, at the back end of it you're going to get more in terms of training.”

Many firms are more actively trying to show young lawyers that the firm is invested in them. Durham Jones & Pinegar President Kevin Pinegar said he recently was speaking to a group of law students and was told the students don't expect loyalty from a law firm, so they don't expect to be loyal to a firm in the long term.

To combat that attitude, Clyde said his firm tries to get the associates involved in client relationships, which has the dual benefit of letting younger associates see a future in the company and making sure clients don't take their business elsewhere when a senior attorney is no longer there.

Tomsic said young lawyers are also very concerned about balancing work and life. “If you don't provide the environment these days that allows people not only to excel as a lawyer, but to be able to go out and be a well-rounded person and have a good family life, whatever that consists of, you're going to lose more people.”

Hal Pos, vice chairman of Parsons Behle and Latimer, said there are generational differences between younger and older attorneys, but he's seeing a shift back to the Baby Boomer mentality. Lawyers growing up and going to school in the recession will have a more Boomer mentality toward work, and Pos said firms will see that shift in the next five to 10 years.

The legal industry roundtable will appear in the June issue of Utah Business.

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