How law firms can improve client experiences [plus 5 ways to build trust with legal practice customers]

Legal services consultancy Altman Weil pointed out in a recent survey that law firms are not immune to the same quest for customer knowledge that all businesses must address. Namely, are firms delivering what customers actually want?

What’s covered in this article?

  • How clients judge a law firm’s client experience
  • Why do clients leave law firms?
  • 5 ways to build trust between law firms and clients

Indeed, are they even asking customers want they want in the first place? As Altman Weil suggests, clients’ usual expectations are for an affordable, expert, and professional service, with good communication, clear processes, and results.

Of course, the truth is that these features of law firm client relationship management are not actual differentiators. They are the cost of entry. Firms need to dig deeper.

How clients judge a law firm’s client experience

That starts with seeking a better understanding of clients’ thinking. More than 50 percent of the clients who conducted performance reviews of firms used the following seven criteria, according to survey data in CLOC’s 2019 State of the Industry Report:

  • Understanding and aligning with their business
  • Responsiveness and timeliness
  • Results and outcomes
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Quality of work
  • Service delivery
  • Diversity and inclusion

Clients also evaluated firms on criteria such as transparency and information sharing, common values, use of IT, and innovation and creativity.

Try Provy for free to automate your client communication processes and case management.

Why do clients leave law firms?

But yet again, it is important that firms dig deeper, not only to understand how clients assess their performance but to grasp why clients leave.

The reasons for a client departure can be deeply complex and case-specific, with traditional drivers ranging from the departure of a partner or a chief legal officer with a key relationship, through right-sizing, to downright economics.

Altman Weil’s 2017 Chief Legal Officer Survey offers more insight into the client departure rationale. The bad news is that many of the key reasons are caused by firms. The good news is they are squarely in a firm’s circle of influence to resolve. Here they are:

  1. Poor legal customer service
  2. A partner leaving the firm
  3. Lower fees elsewhere
  4. The firm’s resourcing
  5. Law firm expertise
  6. Matter efficiency
  7. ‘Fee shock’
  8. Conflicts
  9. Geography

5 ways to build trust between law firms and clients

What steps can firms take to head off these concerns before they become terminal?

As a lawyer, you’re more likely than other professionals to be skeptical of customer service tropes, such as the customer is always right’ or the ‘the customer is king’. Put that down to the law’s longstanding reliance on conflict, paired with its preference for evidence. Thankfully, the tactics below are built on the principle of partnership, as much as they are on service.

  • Collaborate with other law firms: Your clients increasingly need you to help them solve complex problems, from regulatory compliance to cybersecurity. One way to effectively accomplish that is by using teams of multidisciplinary experts, as Thomson Reuters explains. In fact, firms who do so earn ‘stickier’ client relationships and increased revenue. Put simply, competing with firms is the old school, collaborating with them the new.
  • Comply with budgets, time-keeping, and pricing: Cases evolve, projects become more complicated, and issues evolve during long-running matters. This is why complying with outside counsel guidelines (OCGs) and being open with alternative fee arrangements can prove crucial.
  • Suggest proactive legal strategies: While legal work has been notoriously reactive in nature, firms can retain their clients and deliver a truly outstanding experience by preventing legal issues before they arise. While this is likely to come at a cost to billable hours, its effect on lifetime client value can outweigh any short-term concern.
  • Adopt new technologies that enable better legal workflows: Software such as Provy can automate document management, reminders, payment processing, and customer relationship management software into one — to create space in the business to deliver outstanding client experiences.
  • Establish client surveys: Law firms can market their services and aid better practice management by asking clients for their views on their performance. The benefits of doing this are myriad, to both your clients and the firm. Surveys can identify new business development opportunities, facilitate more productive relationships with clients, and provide a forum to address client problems.