Lawyers have radically different interpretations of good client service. The variance is startling. Everyone knows it’s important. But no one seems to know how to do it.
Having recently transitioned from a legal to a commercial role, in this part I offer my perspectives on what makes great client service – and what ‘new law’ start-ups are doing right. Don’t forget to read Part 1, which argued that growing dissatisfaction with the resourcing of matters, leverage and how total legal costs are estimated are driving clients away from ‘old law’.
Client service – It’s not what you think
Lawyers love to say they give great client service. The larger the firm, the better the service. Apparently.
But most lawyers seem to have a peculiar interpretation of great service. It’s hyper-responsiveness. 24/7 availability. Being able to do anything and everything within an impossible deadline. Abandoning personal and family commitments at the drop of a hat. And it’s all for an, at best, superficially appreciative client.
This attitude inevitably sets lawyers up for failure by overpromising and underdelivering. Tired and miserable lawyers don’t do great work. Details get missed and deadlines pass. It’s not a great customer experience for a consumer of legal services.
But hyper-responsiveness doesn’t equate with being a great lawyer, nor quality advice. Neither does technical excellence – that’s assumed. A great lawyer understands why the advice is being obtained, and how it should be presented. Unnecessarily lengthy advices, alarmist language about minute risks with limited financial consequences, are all too common. When did your client last say, “Thank you, that was exactly what I needed?”
Commerciality is a common descriptor in this context – and lawyers are frequently told they need to “be commercial”. Inevitably this means different things to different people. Here’s what I think is important.
Commerciality – Appreciate legal problems are a small part of a larger business problem
Clients aren’t peculiarly interested in your legal speciality. Most aren’t particularly interested in the relevant law either. Instructions are offered to obtain an answer, evidence and ideally a recommendation to help support a particular business decision or manage a particular business risk. Extreme contactability doesn’t matter much if you’re not delivering the desired outcome.
Legal advices which simply canvas all possible risks don’t provide an answer, evidence or a recommendation. Lawyers love to deflect any scenario calling for a recommendation as being a “commercial decision”, while simultaneously writing advices which prevent any commercial decision from being taken because of a failure to quantify those legal risks, or consider the likelihood of those legal risks occurring. All are failures to provide any kind of answer, evidence or recommendation. And then there’s the sticker-shock attaching to the cost of that unhelpful answer.
Lawyers seem to forget that all commercial decisions in business involve risk – and that clients are trying to decide whether the risk is worth bearing given the possible commercial outcomes. Importantly, legal risks are only one factor in this analysis. And all legal risks can be overcome if the price is right.
What’s different about new law?
New law represents a significant shift in how legal services are marketed. Their market niche and use cases are clear. Outcomes and end results are precisely defined. Pricing is public, transparent and usually fixed. And all of this occurs before any client contact. Farewell matter pricing on capacity to pay, rather than matter complexity.
‘Old law’ continues to be personality driven – and marketed on the promise that the right person, with the right team, is right for you. Importantly, it’s the personality driving everything about the end product the client is going to receive. Their perceived expertise is used to include, and exclude, things which are thought to be important to the client. Critically, the ultimate answer, evidence or recommendation is what the personality wants to give – not what the client needs to help support the business decision being made. It’s an approach I’ve previously criticised.
Personalities are out – outcomes are in. Outcomes which are defined in advance of the matter commencing. Clients know exactly what answer, evidence or recommendation they’re paying for. Greater client control over the process ensures the final product is useful.
That’s why new law is so attractive.
Next week we'll publish a related article, 'How ‘old law’ can adapt to the threat of alternative legal services providers'. Until then, there's a range of other great sources to consider. While unrelated to legal practice, the lessons are readily applicable to legal practice:
- Robert Solomon, The Art of Client Service, 2016
- Jim Lyon, Client Whisperers: The Olympians of Great Client Service, 2012
- Robert D Knapp, The Supernova Advisor, 2007