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What clients really think about law firms is not always recorded in surveys

The traditional way for legal firms to discover and measure what their clients think about them is through client feedback programmes, but, writes Paul Roberts of MyCustomerLens, they can be unreliable and limited in their scope, which may help to explain why they are used so infrequently.

According to research by Thomson Reuters Market Insights, published last year, only 27% of clients reported being invited to participate in such programmes by external law firms.

But, by their nature, questionnaires can only ever offer a snapshot in time, and there are other limitations, including confirmation bias, cost, and a reluctance by respondents to go into the kind of granular detail that is helpful for law firms.

However, things are changing for the better, and not only because new and developing technologies – including artificial intelligence (AI) – are making it easier than ever before for legal firms to measure client feedback on an ongoing basis, in real-time.

More advanced programmes typically gather from a range of sources — in-depth interviews, post-matter or post-pitch surveys, key account management programmes — each of which should offer insight into the firm’s performance and the priorities, challenges, and perspectives of its clients.

There is also a growing acceptance by firms that they require a broader and more holistic picture about the client experience that cannot always be gleaned by asking them questions gleaned from formal research.

Often, it is what clients will say, purposely or off the cuff – in meetings, over drinks or dinner, to a receptionist or clerk, in a corridor, at a conference or business convention, in email exchanges, or on social media posts – that reflects more accurately what they think about a legal firm than in the formal context of a questionnaire return.   

In the past, cost and outcome were the main, or even the sole, criteria on which legal firms judged their own performance. Partners who saw that cases settled timeously, on budget and in their clients’ favour might feel justified in believing that they were meeting expectations.

Today clients paying premium rates for the best counsel, expect those conditions to be exceeded as a matter of course and, in many cases, a whole lot more.

Performance is judged on everything from the punctuality of a law firm’s staff to the quality of its documents, and providing a good, or even an excellent level of service, is not always enough to satisfy the most demanding clients.

As ethical and sustainable practices gain prominence, the legal sector faces increasing scrutiny beyond its traditional service provision.

The most recent Law Firm Marketing Club’s ‘What Clients Want 2023’ survey revealed a growing importance placed by clients on a law firm’s approach to sustainability, with 39% considering it very important or important, a slight increase from the previous year.

While not the sole criterion, sustainability factors into client decision-making, particularly among younger and business clients, who exhibit a stronger commitment to social and environmental causes.

Diversity and inclusion have also become integral to the fabric of law firms’ operations, spurred by demand from clients and stakeholders, corporate social responsibility imperatives, and the need for successful recruitment and retention strategies.

The implementation of the Mansfield Rule in the UK legal market in July 2021,

requires firms seeking certification to demonstrate consideration of candidate pools comprising at least 30% women, individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds, those with disabilities, or identifying as LGBTQIA+ when hiring for leadership positions and in formal client presentations, marking a significant industry-wide shift.

It’s widely acknowledged that the legal sector has been slower to embrace change, compared with some other industries. However, in today’s environment, clients have more options than ever before and are willing to seek alternative providers if their needs aren’t being met.

 Providing stability and security in uncertain times is a crucial part of a lawyer’s role and, as client expectations evolve, law firms must provide greater transparency, improved communication, and enhanced access to information.

According to the State of the UK Legal Market 2022 survey by Thomson Reuters, the two most desired attributes by commercial clients are for law firms to deeply understand their business (28%), and to adopt new technologies to enhance client service (27%).

It’s no longer sufficient to merely offer legal advice and representation; clients now expect personalised, value-driven services with transparent pricing and faster turnaround times.

They generally require access to billing details, real-time case updates, and seamless communication via mobile and web platforms and failure to provide these may impact negatively on their perceptions of the firm.

Law firms that leverage technology to meet these evolving client demands are flourishing, while those slow to adapt are struggling to keep pace.

Firms investing in technologies like ‘always on’ client listening are more likely to have up-to-date information about what their clients are thinking and saying about them, and are able to deliver a more responsive and efficient service to their clients.

One potential source of data leverage is the bidding process. By scrutinising bid documents alongside past client feedback and endorsements, firms can glean valuable intelligence on evolving client expectations, preferences, and pain points, empowering firms to tailor their bids more effectively, and bolster their competitiveness in a dynamic market landscape.

Analysing testimonials, online reviews, and other unsolicited feedback channels, allows law firms to ascertain how their brand is perceived by clients and prospects, enabling them to align brand promises with client experiences, nurturing trust, and credibility.

Leveraging tools for real-time capture and analysis of insights from events and conferences empowers firms by informing sales outreach, content development, and product offerings.

Providing stellar legal representation should always be the priority for law firms but they are also businesses operating in an increasingly competitive market and every marginal advantage they gain is crucial. Thankfully, technology offers a way forward for those firms committed to delivering stand-out client experiences.

Paul Roberts is CEO of MyCustomerLens, an AI driven, always-on client listening platform for professional services firms

Matt Baldwin
Matt Baldwin
Co-founder – Coast Communications

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