How to repair the disconnect with your client

One of the recurring themes running through our LexisNexis reports this year is the evolution of the legal profession; what seemed like radical transformation 2-3 years ago has recently become business as usual.

Law firms are now waking up to the fact that their profession has entered a new era. And while they have been focused inwardly over the last few years, dealing with major industry developments and slow economic recovery, another significant development has been taking place alongside. The legal profession has seen a new breed of smart customer emerge – tech savvy, value conscious and increasingly aware of their own importance as consumers.

Clients are becoming progressively more demanding and reports suggest that those who are unable to service this new type of client are unlikely to survive the next five years.

Surely in a client-driven, hyper-competitive market, the voice of the client will be heard loud and clear throughout the firm? Yet, according to the latest LexisNexis Report, Amplifying the Voice of the Client, this doesn’t always seem to be the case.

The research, conducted in partnership with Judge Business School, found a significant disconnect in how law firms listen and act on the voice of the client. What’s more, while both lawyers and clients seem to be aware of the disconnect, their interpretations of the magnitude and underlying causes are different.

The report suggests that this disconnect means many clients are making moves away from larger law firms. 25% of clients mentioned a move to bring more of the business in-house. Several clients are willing to seek non-traditional solutions. And some clients have started working with smaller firms who, they say, offer the flexibility, visibility and responsiveness they do not get from the top-50 law firms.

So what’s the problem? If we’re agreed that law firms won’t survive unless they start putting the client at the heart of what they do, why do some clients still feel their voices are not being heard?

The research suggests there are three persistent causes of the disconnect.

  1. Firstly, clients repeatedly emphasised that they look to law firms for solutions to business problems, yet 40% noted that senior partners of their law firms appeared to lack more than a basic knowledge of their business. It seems though that lawyers view their role differently, as one partner suggested law firms provide advice; it is for the clients to decide how to convert this advice to solutions.
  1. Secondly, law firms typically strive to provide the best advice they can. In many cases, however, clients are looking for advice that is “good enough” rather than “gold standard”. The result is clients feel that are not receiving good value for money. Law firms, however, emphasize that making a judgement on what is “good enough” is difficult without a deep understanding of the clients’ business needs. Their view of this disconnect is clients want a “Rolls Royce service at bargain basement prices”.
  1. Thirdly, 75% of the clients interviewed mentioned they get little help from law firms when analysing the complex portfolio of legal work given to them: spends, trends, type of work, the life cycle of cases, impact, timelines etc. However, from the lawyers’ perspective, many work types remain inherently uncertain and they do not believe it is possible to always provide clients with the visibility they desire.

The report does confirm, however, that evidence from other professional service sectors suggests the disconnect can be repaired though concrete actions. There are, broadly, five recommendations:

  1. Operate in a joined up manner: law firms need to maintain internal visibility of all work done for a specific client. They should appoint key account representatives with a clear mandate for integration and work on providing better external visibility to the client through a two-way line of sight.
  1. Identify opportunities for creating mutual value: law firms need to better understand the client’s business and unearth opportunities for creating value. They are in an excellent position to spot trends and developments in specific sectors and can help clients by sharing knowledge and providing guidance. They can also provide an “outside, looking in” perspective that clients do not necessarily have.
  1. Deepen client relationships: lawyers should ensure their relationships with clients are distinct from the interactions driven by transactions. This requires moving beyond pragmatic engagements to providing a sense of partnership where the client feels protected and valued. 
  1. Understand clients through “customer journeys”: law firms need to better understand the multiple ways in which their client interactions are conducted. This can be done through client journeys, where a set of repeated interactions are carefully mapped to identify insights on gaps, pain points, etc. Client journeys will yield opportunities for improving the client experience, and the overall operations of the law firm. 
  1. Incorporate a “third party” perspective: using third party perspectives to monitor client interactions can be used to examine both the relationship and the engagement to provide the insights needed to ensure clients are satisfied. 

The full report, with detailed solutions and analysis, can be viewed at: lexisnexis.co.uk/clientvoice

Filed Under: Legal Services

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