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Reasons lawyers in private practice break up with corporate clients revealed

Posted by: Laurence Simons 03/10/12

Breaking up is hard to do. You've got to unfriend your ex on Facebook, for instance, which is a hassle. You have to put all their things in a cardboard box and passive-aggressively donate it all to charity. You've got to go to wine bars with all your friends and smile bravely and say how strong you're feeling. And you've got to spend a week straight blubbing on the sofa, watching rom-coms and eating ice cream. But, most of all, you have to go outside on a stormy night, render your arms up to the sky and howl "WHY?", then fall to your knees and say "why?" again, but quietly this time, with introspection, and punctuated with sobs.

Thankfully, for private practice law firms splitting up with their corporate clients, you needn't do that last bit to figure out where it all went wrong. That's because every year Acritas, a UK-based market research firm, goes and sits on their desk and gossips with them over a latte about why they broke up with you. And this week their 2011-12 results came in.

Firstly, let's just deal with this statistic for a minute: 30 per cent of those occupying in-house counsel jobs had broken up with their outside counsel in the last 12 months. That's pretty high. And insight into why those break-ups were happening can save a lot of struggling firms some heartbreak.

So here are the top five reasons, in the form of a fun list. They are presented in this fun style to take the edge off, a little:

ONE: 21 per cent of firms lost business because they were just too darn expensive. Cheap dates win out.

TWO: 18 per cent straight up gave bad advice or lacked expertise. Nobody loves a dummy.

THREE: In 16 per cent of cases, the client/attorney relationship finished when the specific job did. You had your moment in the sun, but it ended.

FOUR: Poor service was responsible for 15 per cent of client terminations, the legal equivalent of being bad in bed.

FIVE: 11 per cent of firms broke off a relationship due to the loss of key lawyers in private practice. There is no real-world relationship equivalent to this one.

But this does give a bit of insight for private practice firms looking to improve (and thus lose less business) as well as for those general counsel who hire them and are looking to avoid the common banana skins that can foul up a general counsel/outside counsel relationship.

The most surprising thing is perhaps that money wasn't always the issue. While corporate firms are increasingly on the lookout for a value-for-money service rather than an anonymous billed-by-the-hour invoice to be sent to them every month, that's not the only sticking point. It seems from the Acritas figures that fostering a healthy, cooperative relationship is also important for lawyers on both sides of the legal fence. So brush up on your pillow talk.