Yes, get to know your clients, or someone else will! Law firms that fail to obtain regular feedback from their clients run the risk of:
- not keeping pace with their clients’ needs and expectations – and losing their work.
- not knowing when a client is unhappy – and losing their work.
- missing out on lucrative opportunities with their clients that they didn’t even know about.
- slow payment of their bills, and/or requests for fee write downs, because their clients are unhappy.
In a recent Legal Leaders Blog article entitled “Volatile future will demand law firms bring more to the party” much was made of the increasingly competitive legal market and the need for law firms to provide a lot more to clients than just “quality legal advice”. The article went on to suggest a number of things that clients are likely to demand from their legal advisors moving forward, including better service, improved value for money, more accurate scoping of work and a detailed understanding of a client’s industry and business.
We regularly conduct relationship review interviews with general counsel, senior in-house counsel and other users of legal services, from many of Australia’s leading private and public sector organisations, and these sentiments are consistently reflected in those interviews. In-house legal teams are increasingly under significant internal pressure to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their organisation’s legal function, including the value that they are receiving from their external legal advisors.
Increasingly, general counsel prefers to work with law firms that clearly understand their specific needs and expectations and their internal business imperatives and pressures. They prefer to work with law firms that understand these issues and are prepared to move with them and be flexible in the manner in which they deliver their organisation’s legal services.
In-house legal teams, and their internal clients, are also looking for a greater degree of certainty in the legal services that they are receiving. They want to be certain that the legal services will consistently meet their needs and expectations and they want certainty around what those services will cost them.
Inherent in a law firm’s ability to continue to meet these needs and expectations will be the firm’s ability to:
- clearly understand their clients’ requirements of their external legal advisors and to keep abreast of any changes as they occur; and
- monitor and measure the firm’s performance and effectiveness in consistently meeting their clients’ needs and expectations.
Accordingly, law firms who wish to be successful and retain and grow their clients must continually seek feedback from their clients on these two issues. Based on the many hundreds of interviews we have conducted with senior in-house counsel, and other users of legal services, we believe that access to real-time information on clients’ needs, expectations and their perceptions of your firm is no longer an optional commodity but is a necessity of conducting business in the current competitive legal environment.
Many firms understand this and are conducting regular relationship reviews and feedback sessions with their clients. They recognise that unless you specifically ask them, clients won’t always tell you what they need or expect, or if they are unhappy. These law firms have a distinct competitive advantage over firms that don’t conduct these reviews.
Similarly, many clients now measure the performance of their external legal advisors within their own organisations and use this data when deciding where to send their work. Accordingly, it is vitally important for firms to understand how they are performing and address any issues that may arise.
So how do you get to know your clients?
The simplest and most effective way to gain reliable intelligence on what clients want, and how well your firm is performing in meeting their requirements, is to ask them. Broadly, there are two main ways to do this:
- Through the effective use of your firm’s day-to-day interactions with your clients. Virtually every interaction with a client is an opportunity to ask what is important to them and how your firm can better meet their needs. Law firms should be asking their clients questions such as “How would you rate our services over the past 12 months?”, “What could we have done better?”, “When using a law firm, what are the things that are important to you?”, “How can we better assist you moving forward?”
- The implementation of a formalised client feedback or listening program that is structured and independent. Whilst a major source of client feedback should always be gained from the day-to-day interactions of a firm’s partners and lawyers servicing a client, based on our experience we believe that this is no longer enough and firms also need to have effective, formal client feedback structures and mechanisms in place. Any client feedback program should be:
- Structured, so as to ensure that client reviews are conducted regularly, they are done well and with the right clients and that client feedback is properly disseminated and addressed.
- Conducted by someone who is independent to the client relationships, so that clients feel better able to provide open and candid feedback and the client feedback is properly ‘heard’ and acted upon by the firm.
Complimentary guide to obtaining quality client feedback
To further assist readers of Legal Leaders Blog we have published a guide called ‘Get to know your clients – or someone else will!’. In the guide we:
- explain why it is so important to understand and meet clients’ needs and expectations, and the consequences of failing to do so;
- outline the benefits available to law firms from conducting regular feedback sessions with their clients;
- provide some practical tips on how to better communicate with your clients and understand what is driving their day to day purchasing decisions for legal services; and
- explain how to design and implement a client feedback program and the options that are available.
If you would like a complimentary copy of the guide then please email Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Moon is the Managing Director of Law Review, the leading specialist provider of client feedback and listening services to the Australian legal industry.