Get honest feedback from your client: the acid test

Lawyers are selected to act for their clients usually because of their past track record in getting results for these clients. If it is a new relationship, the lawyer’s expertise and reputation will have played a big part in securing the instruction. As long as the lawyer continues to perform well, and assuming that no conflict situations arise, the client will continue to issue instructions. But what happens if something goes wrong?

Well, if the mistake that the lawyer has made is sufficiently serious, then there is probably no way back. On the other hand, if the mistake or the perception of underperformance is minor then the opportunity exists to correct it. In fact, research in the service sector has shown that acting to correct an earlier failing in service delivery can lead to higher levels of customer satisfaction than if such a failing had not occurred in the first place. It is also true that a series of minor service failings over time add up in the client’s mind to create the impression of a lawyer who is not doing a good job, with the usual consequence that the lawyer is no longer instructed. So, how should lawyers assess their performance in handling matters for their clients?

Any lawyer handling a matter for a client should have an appreciation of how well things have gone, although your ability to completely misread the client’s real needs and subsequent satisfaction with what you have achieved should never be underestimated. Asking the client how satisfied they are with the outcome of your work is also sensible, but the caveat here is that you can never be wholly sure that the client is being completely honest with you.

The other big issue for those in management positions in law firms is whether their lawyers are being completely open in flagging up problems with particular clients. Lawyers will often seek to hide such problems from management whilst they seek a solution themselves or just hope that it goes away. If they do lose the client, management is often told that others offered a cheaper service, rather than being told the real reason, namely poor service.

To avoid such problems, the best way to get feedback on how lawyers have performed is to seek post-matter feedback using someone who is independent of the work that has been carried out. This may be through an external research agency/consultant or an internal member of the firm’s marketing/BD function, or even a partner who has no involvement with the client.

Ten years ago, such post-matter feedback was rare in the legal sector, but a recent study that we have conducted – KAM in the PSF Sector – has shown that nearly half of the major law firms now collect and act on such feedback. The number of matters reviewed in this way is still relatively small but is increasing rapidly as firms realise the value to be gained from such an approach.

There are many ways to structure a post-matter feedback exercise, but we advise using a short (ten minute) telephone call to illicit feedback after each substantial matter. Online questionnaires are cheaper but response rates are low. Clients also hate typing answers, so you are left with the blunt instrument of multiple-choice questions rather than collecting the richer qualitative feedback which can be achieved when clients are answering questions on the telephone.

The purpose of the feedback exercise is to check that the client has been satisfied with the work undertaken and if they are not, what improvements they are seeking. Collecting data on KPIs for many matters allows the firm to assess trends across clients analysed by work types, offices, sectors, etc. Getting the clients to assess the performance of individual lawyers means that such data can be used in the firm’s appraisal process as well.

Finally, asking the client whether they would instruct the lawyer/firm on the next similar matter or transaction is the acid test of how you have performed.

Filed Under: Practice of Law

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