For over 10 years here I’ve been pleading with firms to talk with their clients about how they’re doing. Whether the process was seeking realistic client feedback, or simply conducting a general client survey, the important thing is whether firms were doing it at all.  Most were not. It is critical in this day and age that they be doing so.

Most will not. So, why don’t I give up beating that drum.

Well, I have to thank Patrick Lamb for his post of Monday. In it he posed the rhetorical question whether “law firms need to have their institutional hearing checked.” He drew his question from the “2016 Report On The State All of The Legal Market” by Georgetown Law Center and Peer Monitor. And from it he drew to strong messages:

“1. More work is going places other than law firms.

“2. Law Firms keep raising rates. Clients refuse to keep paying.”

He also pointed out using graphs that while legal services are increasing – and oh, so are billing rates – realization rates (the amount of billings collected) is falling “precipitously.”

He then asks the hard question: “what does it all mean?”  Many clients are not satisfied!  Law firms will make more money by improving client service than by raising rates.  Lamb’s wonder about institutional deafness should resonant with more firms.

Does your firm need hearing aids?

 

P.S. There’s more worth reading in the Georgetown/Peer Monitor report.

 

 

If it wasn’t so darn important, I wouldn’t harp on the topic so much.  As I mentioned in my last post, I got to wondering how many posts I have made on this blog over the past 10 years that touched on the subject. As said there, I went to my trusty search box above and entered “client feedback.” Having preached over and over on the topic, I can’t really say whether I was surprised there were over 90 posts that referred to it.

Many of my readers may not have seen or been following my blog in those days, I thought it might be beneficial to revisit some of them. Seeking feedback has always been No. 3 on my list of Top 10 Marketing Tips from the beginning. So, here are three more posts on seeking feedback:

In-House Counsel Want Their Law Firms To Seek Feedback

More and more it seems that in-house counsel are expecting their law firms to ask for their feedback. Even though “most general counsel and consultants say those law firms (seeking client feedback) are still in the minority and there isn’t nearly enough of this type of dialogue going on” according to an article on Law.com’s…Continue Reading

Now, More Than Ever, Talk With Your Clients

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…Continue Reading

Why Some Client Feedback Programs Don’t Work

The good news is that some firms are doing client feedback programs; the bad news is that they aren’t really getting the feedback they need. That is, the feedback questions are superficial, and don’t really offer the kinds of return that will actually benefit the firm in retaining the client over the long haul. An…Continue Reading

Hopefully, these revisited posts will encourage you and your firm to seek feedback from your clients.

 

P.S. My apologies for some broken links in some of these posts.  I wasn’t able to repair them, but still believe they are worth sharing.

After seeing a couple of post in the last few days about client satisfaction, I got to wondering how many posts I have made on this blog over the past 10 years that touched on the subject. So I went to my trusty search box above and entered “client feedback.” Having preached over and over on the topic, I can’t really say whether I was surprised there were over 90 posts that referred to it.

Many of my readers may not have seen or been following my blog in those days, I thought it might be beneficial to revisit some of them. Seeking feedback has always been number three on my list of Top 10 Marketing Tips from the beginning. Here are a few:

Seeking Client Feedback: More Critical Than Ever

It’s been awhile since I harped on how important client satisfaction with their legal service provider is. Since starting this blog in January 2005, I have preached many, many times on how important feedback is for firms to retain existing clients or obtain referrals from them (See a few posts below on the subject).  It…Continue Reading

How to Seek Client Feedback

Well, 2015 is almost here. Time to plan your business development strategies for the coming year. One simple one (albeit a feared one by some lawyers), involves seeking feedback from clients to ensure (or improve) the quality of legal services provided. No one needs to be reminded of how tough and competitive the legal marketplace…Continue Reading

Client Feedback Pointer

Seeking client feedback is not only important for every law firm, but it needs to be done right. Following a recent post of mine on the topic, my friend Stacy West Clark raised some issues that got me to thinking about the Who, What, When, Why’s and How’s of getting client feedback: Who should conduct…Continue Reading

Seek Client Feedback For The Right Reasons

Although I believe that law firms will gain more work from clients because they seek feedback on how they are doing, that cannot be the reason for undertaking such a program. The honest reason for seeking client feedback must be based on caring for the client and the relationship. All else will take care of itself….Continue Reading

If I had a penny for every time lawyers have said “my clients love me,” I’d be….well you know.

The problem is that often lawyers do not understand. They assume, based on their continuing to receive work and not having heard about serious concerns, that everything is hunky-dory.

Richard Levick at Levick communications in a post on LinkedIn warns against such complacency. He hates to hear those words from his folks and cautions that the comment “’the client loves us’ is a favorite phrase of either the easily pleased or easily fooled.”  Rather what he asks his people is how can clients “love us more?” Law firm leaders should ask the same question.

Some questions that might detect the love:

  • Is the love experienced at all levels of the organization?  Not just the daily contacts but all the way up the decision-makers who hire and fire law firms?
  • Is your contact in a position to speak for the feelings of the entire organization? Bad vibes anywhere in the organization, including those who don’t do the actual hiring, can help poison the well;
  • Is the firm offering better and deeper services to countermand the offerings made by other competitive suitors?; and
  • What can we do to retain and grow client love?  Saying that “the client loves us” is really saying “we don’t need to change a thing.” Therein lies the real danger for any firm.

Levick put it best when he summed up with “True love demands that we change and evolve every day.”  I fear it is an easier feat for a communication firm than for many law firms, unfortunately.

Apparently not too many firms according to an online “Leadership Matters” survey (a collaboration of TheRemsenGroup and Sterling Strategies) reported on the Managing Partner Forum this week. The survey sought data on individual lawyer contributions to their firms in the areas of financials, client satisfaction, people development, and firm processes/procedures.

What particularly caught my attention was what 56 law firm leaders reported regarding client satisfaction; to wit:

91% have ‘limited’ or ‘no’ measurements of client satisfaction.”

 Ouch! The danger relating to that statistic should be self-evident.

Further, as it so happens, a post this week on Law Practice Matters blog by Erik Mazzone talked about why law firms should track client satisfaction.  It cited an article by the Australian Beaton Research + Consulting firm, which reports (based on 10 years of data, according to Mazzone) that like the proverbial canary in a coal mine, client satisfaction is “a leading indicator for the rising or declining fortunes of the law firm.”

It really doesn’t take a flash of brilliance to figure out that dissatisfied clients are the death knell for any law firm.  Clients may not even complain, they’ll just take a hike. Is there really any need for a firm to be convinced that it should undertake immediately an effort to determine if there key clients (especially) are satisfied?

Mazzone suggests two survey tools (Net Promoter Score and SurveyMonkey) that can help obtain client feedback. Personally, I prefer in-person or telephone satisfaction surveys over written or online ones. The feedback is better, more detailed and more reliable. (See an earlier post of mine on suggestions on how to do that.)

Every law firm better give a darn whether their clients are satisfied – by asking them and not relying on the billing partner’s say so – or they might just regret it.

Often clients don’t actually fire law firms, they just walk away. Sometimes lawyers don’t even know it. The client simply gives work to another firm

I ran across a post that spells out numerous reasons law firms get fired on Mike O’Horo’s RainmakerVT site by Pam Woldow, and the telltale signals you should recognize.

Some of the common reasons include:

  • too many surprises
  • exceeding budgets
  • excessive lawyering and fees
  • lack of appreciation for client’s internal deadlines
  • indifferent communication and poor responsiveness to client needs
  • not understanding the clients business or industry
  • lack of fresh ideas or approaches to matters

So, what are some of the signals indicating your firm is in trouble:

  1. Slowdown in new client matters with lame client excuses;
  2. Your firm is one of several firms asked to respond to a client RFP;
  3. Challenges to the firm’s work product and processes, and invoices or some trivial issue;
  4. Unusual delays in clients returning calls or emails, or a break down altogether in client communications; and
  5. Your client contact blames higher-ups for whatever has become an issue in the relationship.

If you recognize any of the symptoms above, you need to change the situation ASAP, especially with key clients. That means contact, contact, contact containing continual (and meaningful) communication [okay, okay, a bit much on the alliteration]. The important point is you do not want to get fired by an important client for your failure to recognize what things could bring it about.

It’s been awhile since I harped on how important client satisfaction with their legal service provider is. Since starting this blog in January 2005, I have preached many, many times on how important feedback is for firms to retain existing clients or obtain referrals from them (See a few posts below on the subject).  It started with my Top Ten Marketing Tips posts; and ranked No. 3 on the list in terms of prominence when it comes to developing (and holding on to) business IMHO.

With the significant changes in the legal profession that have occurred since the “second” great depression, client feedback is needed even more now.  In fact, I should probably move it up to No. 2 on my list of best practices.

The topic has been mentioned in the Citi/Hildebrandt client advisory before, and it is again in the “2014 Client Advisory.” This year’s advisory addresses, under the topic of firm growth, three areas: organic growth, laterals and mergers.  And under organic growth, it covers the issue of client feedback and the interrelationship with cross-selling, to wit:

“In Citi’s 2013 Law Firm Leaders Survey (LexisNexis® subscription req.)…57 managing partners of predominantly Am Law (sic) 100 firms described how critical cross-selling efforts have become….(T)he survey also found that while a substantial number of firms have a formal client feedback program, the majority (53%) do not.”

Two-thirds of those that have a formal program talk with clients about cross-selling; and those who don’t often talk about price.  The advisory states that law firm clients more often ”talk about the importance of relationships with their firms.”

“Implementing a formal client feedback program is a key means by which firms can further cement their client relationships and capture greater market share.”

In today’s new world, it is important to solidify as many client relationships as possible in order to avoid reducing your firm’ market share.  Nah, more than that, it’s critical.

 

Client Satisfaction Surveys for Law Firms

How Satisfied Are Your Clients? Ask Them

Client Interviews: Think Defensively

Client Interviews: Why They Really Are Necessary

 

As the saying goes you can’t win ‘em all. Some cases or transactions are not going to end well. Don’t beat yourself up over it. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be concerned over a disappointed, or worse, angry client over the outcome of a matter.

A post by Ryan Sullivan on Attorney at Law addresses those situations “When Clients Get Upset Over The Result.”  She provides five tips on how to avoid and/or deal with “a client’s anger over a not-so-happy ending.” They include:

  1. Don’t over promise or under deliver.  Lawyers know that it is unethical to create unrealistic expectations or guarantee results. Most lawyers also understand that while trying to land a client you do not want to overemphasize “doom or gloom” either. So, it is very important to minimize promises and to explain realistic options;
  2. Keep the client involved during the process.  Sullivan suggest that you want to let the client know how hard you are working for them, and how things are proceeding.  But, don’t only communicate the good things that are happening.  A client needs to know about the good, the bad and the ugly as things proceed.  Surprises is what angers clients the most;
  3. Prepare in advance an explanation, regardless of the outcome.  Planning is always a good thing.  So, plan to explain, which ever way things turn out, as part of your normal routine, especially in the case where it doesn’t turn out so well.  During that session, listen to the client, execute your prepared plan, and schedule a follow up meeting after the adrenaline has subsided, and “there’s been a time for cooler heads to prevail;”
  4. Keep your cool. As a professional, it is important to maintain the emotional high road.  Since you know that you can’t control what a judge or jury will do, or an opposing counsel’s tactics, it is your responsibility to remain calm, be sympathetic and show concern.  But, you need to focus on your professionalism, no matter how unhappy you are on a personal level; and
  5. Keep the big picture in mind.  Remember that you can never win them all (even though they told us in law school otherwise).  Don’t forget that the most important person to you is you, and to your family.  You need to move on no matter how angry the client or the outcome.  Don’t let the situation, as Sullivan puts it, “define who you are or how you practice law” going forward (except to correct your screw up of course, if applicable).

How you conduct yourself in these situation will impact your reputation, and how and what the client says about you.  It is a marketing issue.

In the good olde days, “legal services” was consider one word.  And it meant the legal product(s) produced by lawyers; that is, the complaint, contract, employment agreement, closing documents, etc. etc.  In other words it was all about the “legal” and had less to do with HOW the legal “services” were delivered or how the client was treated.

It comes as no surprise that that is no longer the case.  Moreover, we are part of a mature industry, and in a new normal in how lawyers ply their trade.  One reasons is that there are too many lawyers.  According to a ranking of the Top 50 law schools by AboveTheLaw.com blog, only 54% of 2012 graduates have full time, bar required jobs, and that only 10,000 of the 60,000 jobs lost in 2008 have returned.

In addition, in today’s mature market there is greater competition among law firms and between firms and non-legal providers (tax accountants, financial planners, and software), not to mention off-shore law firms.  Other factors such as lower realization rates, and alternative fee arrangements are all impacting the legal marketplace.

Thus, it is vital to hang on to the important clients you already have.   Your key or “crowned jewel” clients, if you will.  Believe me, what and how “services” are delivered has everything to do with keeping them.  Bottom line:  the services aspect of legal services is even more critical today.

Clients expect greater service and value. What are a few of these expectations? Meeting (or exceeding) deadlines, being responsive, excellent communications, no surprises, and, yes, some freebies – e.g., CLE, no charge for short phone calls, photocopying (major litigation/transactions excluded), and even some free advice.

So, what’s a firm to do to get on top of and ensure they are providing good client service?  Here are three suggestions:

  • Seek feedback – before (to meet expectations), during (to see how things are going), and after (to see how things went and what could be improved) an engagement;
  • Improve communications – ask clients how and how often they want to be communicated with and about what (e.g., status reports, consultations, developing issues, etc., and whether by memo, email or telephone); and
  • Visit clients (off the clock) – to learn more about their business/industry, what concerns are keeping them up at night, etc.  This shows you are truly interested in the client’s business and, it just so happens, often leads to immediate new work.

If your firm provides quality client services, you will not only continue to get their work, but obtain new clients when they tell others about the quality of your legal (product) and services.

If your firm has ever lost a client (yeah, I know), I hope you know why. Not think you know, BUT really know the reason(s).  My guess is that it was due to poor client relations and/or failure to produce value, or a combination of both.

An article by Aric Press, editor-in-chief of The American Lawyer in an article entitled “Why Clients Fire Firms”  on The AmLaw Daily this week talks about some reasons blue-chip, billion dollar companies fire law firms. (IMHO the size of the company doesn’t matter.)  The list consists of poor service, quality issues, and price (read value).  Also mentioned was failure to transition to a new lawyer when one retires or leaves the firm.  Transition in a solid, meaningful way.

The overall relationship – involving caring about the client’s goals, effective communications, working hard to produce true value for the client, etc. – all are extremely important. As Press points out, a main reason for firings: “severe lack of relationship between what the bills were and what the value was.” Let’s not forget that results also matter, but it is not always THE reason.

So, are you providing value? How do you know? Have you asked lately?  Ever? As Press puts it “[a]wareness, of course, requires a working feedback loop that connects to a firm’s client relations operation.”

If your firm does not have such a client “operating system,” and you haven’t sought feedback as to the overall relationship, you too could get a pink slip.  And, without regular feedback, you may never know the real reason why.