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“The customer is always right” is not a particularly popular mantra amongst lawyers, perhaps because the nature of the work involves professional guidance which may sometimes run counter to what a client thinks is “right” or challenges their way of doing things. However, good customer service (or client satisfaction, if you prefer) is a crucial ingredient for any successful lawyer-client relationship.
Rather than “service with a smile” [or insert any other customer service cliché you can think of here], the measurement of client satisfaction is primarily correlated with practical outcomes. Developing soft skills such as good listening techniques, the avoidance of legalese, and timely replies will give you the edge, but only if favourable results are achieved; if you lose your client’s case a friendly approach will only go so far!
Speaking at an event marking the publication of a survey which noted the growing importance of “customer service” for clients choosing a lawyer, the former legal ombudsman Adam Sampson (before he resigned over controversial travel expenses) told lawyers that modern clients “don’t need what’s in your head because they can find it [on the internet] … What they need is for you to interpret, package and systemise that knowledge, and to help them deploy it in the interests of what they’re trying to achieve.” This was an interesting observation of the changing face of the legal sector, where service is now becoming more sought after than knowledge.
The survey itself found that quality of service was an increasingly important factor in choosing a lawyer and suggested that the majority of businesses are looking for reputable quality marks such as Lexcel, which covers seven different areas including client care. Additionally, the survey emphasised the importance of online services as a criterion in choosing a firm.
With all the product comparison websites, it was only a matter of time before the legal industry had its own Meerkat equivalents. ReviewSolicitors (www.reviewsolicitors.co.uk), which has been described as the “Trip Advisor” equivalent for solicitors, was set up in 2015 by chief executive Saleem Arif who previously jointly founded QualitySolicitors in 2008 with Craig Holt. Clients can rate their lawyers on a range of factors, including:
They can also leave feedback, to which law firms are encouraged to respond. But although Arif claimed this kind of review site “is something the [legal] market has been crying out for”, the deluge of negative comments in response to the announcement of its launch shows that there is a lot of trepidation surrounding this approach. One commenter warned: “Adequate or good service is rarely highlighted. The trolls will be having a field day and the more sensible members of the public will rely on word of mouth.” Another noted “It just takes 1 or 2 disgruntled clients who did not like the advice they received ... to damage the rating of a firm offering a perfectly good service.”
Having a good reputation for client satisfaction is vital in terms of attracting new business, but there are other useful tools which can be used to increase the standing of a firm in the legal marketplace. Honing on a niche field and becoming a specialist can make you stand out from the more generalist competition. An effective branding process may serve to demonstrate a unique approach or ethos and keep your firm in the mind’s eye of your potential clients. Finally, “thought leadership” - which may take the form of blogging, commenting on recent legal developments in various publications, or engaging with social media - can demonstrate your current awareness and further help you to distinguish yourself from the crowd.
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