Clients surveyed by The Lawyer have said they would be “very unhappy” to have a business services professional rather than a lawyer as the main point of contact at their external law firm, new research has revealed.

One client’s response was particularly vehement: “Absolutely terrible idea. Having to go through someone who doesn’t really understand our profession in order to get through to our relationship partner sounds horrible.”

The results conflict with a growing trend of increased investment by firms in a range of business services functions that is resulting in these roles becoming increasingly client-facing.

In this year’s UK 200: Business Services report The Lawyer asked clients whether they would be happy to have a business services professional as their primary contact at their external law firm.

Although some clients said they would be happy, almost half (45.5 per cent) of ­respondents expressed some level of unhappiness with the idea, with 15.6 per cent saying they would be “very unhappy” if a business services professional was their main contact.

Around a quarter (26 per cent) said they were neutral on the concept, and a total of 28.6 per cent of respondents said they were quite or very happy with the idea. The proportion that said they would be very happy was the smallest group, at just 13 per cent of respondents.

Most of those in the unhappy group said they wanted their primary contact to be a lawyer, and generally a partner.

“I want to be able to get quality advice quickly,” said one client. “I don’t mind if we have a different non-legal contact for general relationship issues.”

Another said it “depends on how the relationship was ­managed and how well the business services person was able to link me in to the correct specialist”.

“It’s hard to generalise about this,” mused another ­respondent. “It would really depend on the individual’s understanding of, and ability to deliver, the services that we require from the firm, but it feels like it would be challenging for law firms to make this work.”

The aim of The Lawyer’s attitudinal survey of in-house counsel was to gauge whether firms’ extensive levels of investment in business services teams, notably those related to ­technology, over the past few years has resulted in any material change to the service they provide to clients.

The survey also asked clients for their thoughts and preferences on external firms’ use of technology. The full results are included in this year’s UK 200: Business Services report.

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