Part 1 of
our roundtable discussed law firm branding. This
month we continue our discussion with a focus on Client
Part 2: Client Service
Mark Beese: Several recent studies of in-house
counsel have revealed that clients are not satisfied
with the level of service and responsiveness given by
law firms. Some firms are investing heavily in "client
service initiatives." Client surveys and top-level
visits are becoming more common. What client service
initiatives has your firm started, or if you are not
with a firm, what initiatives have you seen that are
Bill Feid: This is a very interesting topic.
For the past several years we have heard this similar
complaint. However, I really believe this is more a
perception than reality and we need to separate responsiveness
from the quality of services. From our perspective firms
have done a superior job in delivering very qualified
services. Such services only become scrutinized when
the client receives the bill and may have sticker shock.
This raises a number of challenges as the client weighs
the value proposition after the fact. I believe firms
could improve on managing client expectations regarding
fees, and the simple use of budgets and timely review
of progress will go a long way in improving client relations.
There are a number of budgeting tools available that
are simple to use and are collaborative with the client.
On the other hand, firms at times can be slow to respond.
Often this reflects operational inefficiencies, such
as poor document management systems or slow access to
necessary information. There are several tools available
today that have a significant impact on inefficiency,
allowing immediate access to client information and
firm knowledge management systems. The ability to shorten
the response time has a direct impact on client satisfaction.
Technology, if used wisely, can facilitate closer interaction
with your clients. An extranet is an excellent example
to keep more frequent contact with your client and allow
a controlled exchange of appropriate information, whether
work product or knowledge management databases. Increasing
the repetition of exposure to your client, I believe,
is directly correlated to the strength of the relationship.
From our promotion-of-technology-perspective we have
seen a number of firms demonstrate technical competency
as a means for efficiency and improved quality of professional
services delivered. In one of our customers' examples,
our customer has won a significant amount of new business
by promoting the use of technology. In fact, this firm
increased its billings by over 1,000% as a result, and
increased margins by 30%.
From our client perspective, we have yet to receive
any client surveys but we have had periodic meetings
with some of our law firms to discuss general company
overview and solicitation for feedback on the firm's
service level. These meetings, while time consuming,
are invaluable in developing stronger relations. I think
these meetings are excellent and bring back the human
touch that sometimes can be forgotten.
Harry Trueheart: Here are some things we have
been doing for many years:
- Client satisfaction surveys--followed by actions
to respond to expressed preferences or problems
- 360 evaluation of our lawyers, including partners,
which means direct client input on individual performance
- Relationship management training
- Project management training
- Relationship visits with clients by firm leadership
- Internal client satisfaction surveys and "quality
management" initiatives--we believe that our
ability to meet our external client needs is affected
by the quality of support services provided by our
staff to its internal lawyer clients so we do annual
performance surveys and develop improvement plans.
Results have been higher satisfaction levels with
- Communications and connectivity are very important
elements in the service equation. Our initiatives
- BlackBerries for nearly all attorneys
- cell phones for all attorneys
- widespread deployment of laptops
- remote access to firm resources
- client and project specific extranets, etc.
Mark Beese: Professional selling? Relationship
Training? Project Management Training? It sounds like
Harry believes that we are actually in the people business,
not selling hours. I'd gladly trade my national advertising
budget for attorneys who can super-please clients, sell,
and expand "wallet-share." To shift focus
from selling hours to focusing on the clients is really
a cultural change. How has your firm instituted such
a change? What role does leadership play in change?
Bill Feid: The points that Harry presented
are great ideas and I am sure if managed effectively
will substantially improve client service. I would add
to the communication section that more frequent status
reports on projects and fees would be key components
of what is communicated. More often than not, our disappointment
is the surprise in fees and not knowing progress on
activities. For instance, we release several new products
and or product versions every quarter. Most of these
products are covered by patents, and the timeliness
of patent applications is key prior to release of the
product. When we need to coordinate marketing plans,
sales plans, and product releases, we need to know exactly
were we are in the filing process. There have been times
where we had to hold release of a product because we
had not had our patent applications completed on time.
Laura Owen: I see a significant difference
in law firms that conduct customer satisfaction surveys
from those who do not. Whether the firms do the survey
online or in person, these firms appear to be more closely
in touch with their clients and do make changes where
needed. I was particularly impressed with one firm that
employs a 360-review process for associates up for partner,
so I have the chance to give input from the client's
On another note, which is less exciting than technology
but lots of fun, we start new relationships with firms
by holding an on-site session that gives them an immersion
education into the company as well as letting them introduce
the firm in more detail to the business people who will
work very closely with outside counsel. The meetings
have lasted anywhere from half a day to two full days,
but the idea is that we are committed to spending time
to educate the law firms to make their life much easier
as well. This gets the relationship off on the right
foot, then we follow up with quarterly meetings--via
phone typically--to discuss issues on both sides. I
find that a two-way communication is most effective--I'm
not always doing things the way I should despite the
adage that the "customer is always right."
So mutual feedback again helps solidify the relationship.
Darryl Cross: One thing that firms are sometimes
are guilty of is benchmarking tunnel vision. For some
firms, conducting simple firm satisfaction surveys is
akin to asking which airline offers the best in-flight
meal service! Firms are starting to go out into the
marketplace and interview CXOs/GCs about how they would
build the ideal law firm from scratch. Subjects like
communication protocols, methods of billing, service
expectations, and other key areas should be discussed.
Since these potential clients are experts in building
successful customer-oriented enterprises, who better
to gain insights on best practices from? In most cases,
I imagine that it would be the first time any firm had
ever asked THEM what they thought about building a better
mousetrap. While many firms try to gauge satisfaction
as compared to other firms, it is a better idea to evaluate
how the industry operates as a whole--and how it could
be improved (I would cite Southwest Airlines as a great
champion of this).
In addition, new client surveys can be a form of proactive
retention. One of the most dangerous times in a client
relationship is the time between the signing of the
engagement letter and the arrival of the first bill.
Firms could reduce client dissatisfaction from Day One
by managing expectations and getting the new relationship
started on the right foot.
Finally, there is also a great deal of emphasis on "kicking
the bricks" visits to the client's place of business.
By doing so, lawyers are better able to understand the
operations and pressures of their client's business
as well as proactively identify other areas of expertise
of the firm that could be deployed to help them grow
Linda O’Connell: Client service is only
as effective as the value proposition the client sees.
Firms need to act like businesses and provide efficient
responses to legal issues and to responding to clients.
Effective traditional tactics include competitive intelligence
(in addition to Norm's suggestions, I'd add OneSource,
which provides current business data as well as a clipping
service to keep lawyers aware of what's happening in
their client companies), surveys (we gain insight from
these and I am also astounded how highly most corporations
rank their outside law firms...no more lawyer jokes!),
marketing training, and firm wide consensus over operating
like a business instead of a group of solo practitioners.
However, the real service factor seems to be "partnering."
Firms can establish efficiencies to better serve the
expressed business goals of the client. Find ways to
manage costs. Share risk and reward. Partnering works
through improved communication and creation of efficiencies.
Barriers to clarity are removed. In-house counsel find
outside lawyers who understand their goals and seek
to make them "look good" to management. Yes,
a thorough examination of the law occurs, but there's
more. In-house and outside lawyers can assess the risk
level associated with their concerns on an ongoing basis
and determine, together, the way to proceed. In return,
firms secure a base volume of work coupled with the
opportunity to grow that base as a reward for delivering
good services. The relationship rows on a more meaningful
level since everyone works more seamlessly as a team
to service the company's objectives. For the firm, faster
payment of invoices and other beneficial payment arrangements
result, including bonus payments for achieving certain
results that the client truly values. And, in the end,
everyone gains a more rewarding result.
Bill Feid: I would be completely satisfied
with the partner on the account handling the relationship
visit and recognize the difficulty for firm leadership
to meet all the firm clients.
Ed Poll: Most people I listen to about client
surveys are talking about after the service is delivered.
Seems to me that that may be too late.
One of my clients, who deals with individuals, sends
out a client survey with the first billing statement.
He'll get a sense of the client's reaction right away,
when he can do something about it.
Another of my clients had some serious billing write-offs.
My assignment was to seek ways to avoid this in the
future. What I found was that there was little client
contact, except on the specific technical issues involved,
during the course of the engagement. Thus, when the
billing came, there were surprises. We developed a budgeting
process for all litigation over a threshold level, which
required the sign-off by the client at each stage. Thus,
the client could no longer claim surprise ... and, if
the client wanted to accept a business risk that was
contrary to the law firm's advice, the client could
do so. This incorporated the client's thinking into
the process ... there was little or no argument about
fees in those cases where this process was followed.
We developed a whole system for this, got the entire
litigation department involved, and now our written
work product will be published for others to see by
the beginning of next year.
Mark Beese: What a great idea to seek feedback
during the process, not at the end.
Harry Trueheart: This approach is part of
standard expectations in client relationship management
and on major matters, a piece of what I referred to
earlier as 'project management'--the simplest elements
of which are defining deliverables; timetable; division
of responsibilities; pricing and payment expectations
on both sides, together with milestones for project
performance and assessment.
Bill Feid: I truly believe those firms who
place emphasis on improving their individual firm's
client service or satisfaction will have a positive
impact on client retention, improved billing recovery
(less write-offs), and additional work. Our company's
experience has been centered on firms meeting about
once a year for a general update and overview of the
relationship. This typically has helped establish budget
expectations and priority of assignments. More frequent
meetings I believe would be beneficial. Regarding surveys,
we have yet to receive one. Surveys, if used effectively,
can provide valuable feedback. In our business we survey
our customers all the time, and just as important, factor
this feedback into our future product development releases
and use the content for our customer advisory board
meetings. I am sure the same positive results would
benefit law firms.
Ed Poll: The more people you have connected
with the client, the better off you are. Though there
is one relationship partner, there should be others
who deal with the client company at different levels.
Seems to me that there is a problem when the relationship
partner hordes the relationship ... and doesn't allow
others into the mix ... When that happens, the firm
suffers. Seems to me that the firm leadership must take
a stand and insist that there be more than one partner
involved with each major client. That then gives the
client an opportunity to communicate at different levels
and the firm an opportunity to hear important issues
that need to be addressed as and when they arise, not
after the client has selected another firm for its legal
Darryl Cross: As for client surveys, like
it or not, everyone already does them.
Your current clients are either happy or one just moment
away from getting rid of you. When they switch firms,
you now know for sure. It is a pretty foolproof system
of finding out satisfaction levels, but a bit on the
Darryl Cross is the Managing Principal
of Darryl Cross Consulting and former Chief Marketing
Officer for Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff,
based in Cleveland Ohio. Darryl has been widely recognized
for his innovations in developing a sales culture
and system at Benesch. Darryl received the 2003 “Marketing
Initiative of the Year Award” at this year’s
Marketing Partner Forum. www.more-rain.com
Bill Feid, President and Chief
Executive Officer, RealLegal, LLC. Bill has been at
the helm of technology companies, including Law.com,
EMS, and Firefly. Bill wears two hats in the conversation,
one as CEO and buyer of legal services, and one who
has insight into the business of law as CEO of RealLegal.
Linda O’Connell, Marketing
Director of Robinson & Cole, LLP. Linda is a legal
marketing veteran, with more than 14 years experience
as the top marketing professional for Robinson &
Cole, the leading law firm in Connecticut. Linda has
served on the Legal Marketing Association National
Board in several capacities and has led the marketing
committee for the United States Law Firm Group. www.rc.com
Laura Owen, Director of Legal Affairs
for Cisco Systems. Laura leads Cisco’s legal
affairs supporting Worldwide Human Resources and Work
Place Resources for this global leader in technology.
She joined Cisco from Women.com, where she served
as Vice President. www.cisco.com
Ed Poll, President of LawBiz.com.
Ed is a well-known coach and consultant to the law
practice management sector. He has authored several
ABA books on managing a law firm. www.lawbiz.com
Norm Rubenstein, Partner of the
Zeughauser Group. Norm is the nation’s top law
firm marketing consultant. Formerly Chief Marketing
Officer with Orrick, Norm has led the profession in
the use of law firm branding and marketing communications.
He is former President of LMA, and was recognized
in 2002 with the “Marketing Director of the
Year” award. Norm speaks at many conferences
on marketing topics, including the Marketing Directors
Institute, Marketing Partner Forum and the Legal Marketing
Association National Conference. www.zeughausergroup.com
Harry Trueheart, III, Managing Partner
of Nixon Peabody, LLP. Harry has led Nixon Peabody,
one of the fastest growing law firms, through several
mergers throughout the country. Nixon now has more
than 600 attorneys in 14 cities. Harry is a Fellow
of the College of Law Practice Management. www.nixonpeabody.com
And me, Mark Beese. I am the Marketing
Guy at Holland & Hart, LLP, a 285 -attorney firm
with 12 offices throughout the Rocky Mountain West
and Washington DC. www.hollandhart.com