What Corporates Want: fees and billing
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What Corporates Want: fees and billing

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Survey results of over 25,000 in-house lawyers show competitive pricing and transparency in billing practices can help firms win clients

Economic uncertainties due to war and a COVID-induced slowdown have pushed global companies to reassess how they budget for their legal and intellectual property activities in the past few years.

Even the biggest names across industries aren’t necessarily willing to pay a premium fee for IP-legal services.

Indeed, research conducted by Managing IP+ and its sister brands including IFLR+ and ITR+ showed that fees and billing rates of prospective partner firms rank high on in-house lawyers’ lists while deciding to engage external counsel.

Among 28,721 in-house counsel surveyed across all brands, 94% said fees and billing is either important or very important.

For IP STARS survey respondents specifically, the results were nearly identical, at 95%.

A follow-up conversation with Niall Trainor, managing IP attorney at Hasbro in London, echoed the findings from the survey.

“Fees and billing rates are one of the top three factors we look into while hiring new counsel.

“Everyone is under pressure to get value for money, so if you can get the same result by spending less, that’s always a bonus,” he added.

The licensing programme leader at a global technology company agreed with Trainor, noting: “All legal departments are currently running on tight budgets. We aren’t necessarily looking to pay rock-bottom prices. However, we want to work with firms that charge a fair price.”

Many in-house counsel think of IP as a “bottomless pit” – with an endless list of potential infringement, anti-piracy, and other contentious actions they must consider pursuing.

It’s only natural, therefore, that they want law firms that can help them figure out how best to allocate their limited budgets and are flexible about their billing rates depending on case demands.

At the same time, it’s also important to in-house lawyers that their external counsel stick to their initial fee proposals and maintain a high quality of service throughout the agreed period of their engagement.

“Fee proposals that are inconsistent with actual practices can lead to lack of trust,” noted Geoffrey White, general counsel at coating services company SilcoTek in the US.

“The firms that are upfront about the costs involved at different stages of whatever transaction is being sought by their client are the ones that build trust based on proposals alone.”

To in-house counsel, transparent fees and billing practices are synonymous with reliability. Law firms that keep this in mind can stay ahead of the game.

Regional

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All three surveyed regions – APAC, EMEA and the Americas – showed equal enthusiasm towards good fees and billing practices, with 94% of counsel flagging it as important or very important while picking external counsel.

Over 50% of counsel in all three regions expressed that fees and billing is very important, with APAC (57%) topping the charts.

In the IP STARS-specific survey, APAC counsel showed the most interest in fees and billing, with 97% of the participants marking fees and billing as important or very important. The Americas and EMEA secured the second and third spots, with 96% and 94% of the respondents respectively indicating interest.

Overall, the differences in values between all three regions were less than 4 percentage points, indicating in-house counsel are similarly placed on the importance of fees and billing irrespective of where they are based.

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Overall, across all brands, APAC produced the highest mean score at 87.7%, with the Americas trailing right behind at 87.4%. EMEA received a slightly lower mean score at 85.7%.

Again, the differences in mean scores between the different regions were small, indicating fees and billing practices are important for in-house counsel across territories.

Global revenue

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In terms of revenue distribution, companies with over $500 million in global revenues showed slightly more interest in fees and billing than others, with 94% of respondents from those companies marking it as important or very important. Of those with lower than $500 million in global revenues, a nearly identical proportion of counsel, 93%, expressed interest in those issues.

An average score of more than 90% across the board suggests fees and billing practices are a high priority for all corporates irrespective of their earnings.

Among those who considered fees and billing very important, companies with over $5 billion came on top, with 53% of the participants holding such an opinion.

In the Managing IP-specific survey, companies across all earning brackets showed the same level of interest in fees and billing, with 95% of the participants flagging it as important or very important.

Of those who found fees and billing very important, companies falling in the lowest earning bracket – with less than $50 million in global revenues – topped with a score of 56%. This diverges from the findings of the broader survey across all brands, in which companies in the highest financial segment had topped the relevant category.

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Overall, across all brands, companies with over $5 billion in global revenues received the highest mean score, at 86.4%. Those with $500 million to $4.99 billion or less than $50 million in global revenues tied for the second place with a mean score of 86.2%, followed by those with $50 million to $499.9 million at 85.6%.

Industry

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From the perspective of industries surveyed, telecoms companies expressed more interest than others in fees and billing, with 97% saying they found such practices important or very important. The next biggest backer was advanced manufacturing, with a score of 96%. The automotive and transportation and consumer sectors also showed high interest, at 95%.

An average score of over 90% across all industries again demonstrates high interest in fees and billing practices.

The automotive and transportation sector led the groups that flagged fees and billing practices as very important, at 56%. The consumer and telecoms sectors tied for the second position, at 55% each.

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Overall, across all brands, the automotive and transportation, telecoms and consumer industries expressed the most interest, with mean scores of 87.6%, 87.5% and 87.3%, respectively.

Practice area

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As far as practice areas are concerned, IP and litigation lawyers seem to be most keen on fees and billing, with 95% of those respondents saying it is important or very important.

Financial and corporate law and tax participants also demonstrated similar levels of interest, at 94%.

Overall, the difference of 1 percentage point across practice areas suggests corporate counsel, regardless of their area of expertise, pay considerable attention to the fees and billing practices of their external counsel.

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In terms of mean scores, litigation survey participants showed the highest interest, at 87.7%. The next biggest backer was IP, with a mean score of 87.3%. Financial and corporate law respondents secured the third spot, at 86.4%, followed by tax, at 85.2%.

Methodology

Through our primary research with in-house counsel representatives, we ask them to rate a range of attributes and their importance in decision-making when selecting outside counsel.

We have aggregated the responses from our practice area-specific surveys in 2022 and 2023 and analysed the results in this report series. The data highlights the extent to which in-house counsels’ views on these attributes differ between industries, regions, revenue sizes and practice areas.

In total we have analysed responses from over 25,000 in-house counsel respondents over the two-year period.

To read the previous instalment of What Corporates Want, click here.

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Special Projects Editor Managing IP
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Sukanya manages the special projects published on Managing IP, including the IP Ones to Watch, 50 Most Influential People in IP and What Corporates Want. She also covers all IP-related issues in Asia including trademark, copyright, patent and design matters.
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