Two recent surveys really point out how important it is for law firms to stay very close to their existing clients. Not only by communicating constantly, but seeking feedback on how the firm is doing.

Why?

Because clients, especially in-house counsel, continue to be concerned about the costs of outside legal services. As a result, both surveys tell us that corporate counsel are going to bring more legal work in-house and fire outside law firms:

Accordingly, it behooves (gosh can’t remember last time I used that word) firms to stay very close to clients, so they are not one of the firms impacted by such moves.

Maybe that is why more firms are hiring or have dedicated in-house persons focusing on seeking client feedback.  Best to know if there are issues that need to be addressed before your firm is one of those shown the door.

Seeking client feedback appears to be getting more attention in firms of all sizes. Ballard Spahr (500-plus lawyers) has hired a full-time “client interviewer,” and Stanislaw Ashbaugh (19 lawyers) prominently links to their Chief Results Officer from their home page, and Ward and Smith PA (80 lawyers) has a partner who is devoted to visiting clients nearly full-time.  Other firms with similar positions include Orrick (over 1000 lawyers) with a firmwide ombudsman, and Reed Smith (over 1600 lawyers) with a director of general counsel relations.

Are these firms pacesetters for a greater focus on client feedback? Or is it just a fad?  One can only hope it is an encouraging trend.

Client feedback is clearly one of the most important things a law firm can do to enhance client relationships, which in turn results in more work. That is why it ranks No. 3 on my list of Top 10 Marketing Tips.  Moreover, a recent survey by The BTI Consulting Group reports that per attorney profits increased by 41.2% when there is “single individual accountable for firm-wide client service.”

If gaining more client work is what marketing and business development is all about – Hmm, I wonder! – and seeking feedback is that effective, then hiring someone for the business development team who would concentrate on that role would make a lot of sense.

If you don’t buy into that idea, at least hire a consultant to seek feedback for you. In many firms the managing partner fills this role, and of course, he or she is a good person for that; but, with everything else on their plate, it just doesn’t get the priority and consistent effort that it should.

That is why the actions of these firms are so impressive. And I’ll bet clients just love it, too.  Moreover, I’ll wager that each of them obtains an ROI of at least double their salary in any given year in new work for the firm.

So, who is the dedicated person seeking client feedback in your firm?

Since I started interviewing law firm clients in 1990 (even used a film crew to capture five of them on a VHS tape – I’ll bet you remember what those are), I have never waivered from the belief that it is one of the most important things a firm can do to retain clients. And developing and enhancing client relationships is what marketing is all about. It is one of the reasons I put client feedback as No. 3 on my Top Ten Marketing Tips list.

Ballard Spahr in Philadelphia has made a major commitment to institutionalize its client feedback process. As reported on several blogs (Mark Beese on his Leadership by Lawyers, Larry Bodine’s Law Marketing Blog and Peter Darling’s Business Development) over the past week, Ballard has hired a full time “client interviewer.” It is reported that the person has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist, so she should be conducting some serious interviews. I agree with Peter that it is a brilliant move.

Your firm may not be in a position to justify the cost of a full time in-house client interviewer (Ballard has 500 lawyers after all), but there is absolutely no reason why your managing partner, or an experienced outside third party, shouldn’t be doing client interviews for your firm. The purpose is to determine how the firm is doing in the relationship, inviting honest feedback on any problems, and to learn what the firm could do better.

It is better to find out if there are problems, that can be corrected, before your key clients decide to try another law firm for their next matter. There is no time to waste.