For law firms to compete in today’s market, they must be progressively customer-centric. It is more than being responsive and tailoring strategies for individual clients. It is ensuring that your firm evolves the operations mentality to focus more on client needs throughout their lifecycle – from intake to matter conclusion.
One critical, if not obvious, component of meeting client demands is clearly understanding those demands. By engaging with the client and asking the right questions, your firm will be better equipped to provide the exceptional service clients expect. Three of the most common client requests – and how to have insightful conversations about them – are discussed below.
The mere mention of “fees” might lead one to believe that this is purely about cost-cutting and budgetary concerns. The answer, however, may be more complex.
Perhaps they are interested in financial solutions like working within a fixed budget. Or there may be a fee structure they already have in mind. There may also be services that the client is ultimately just unwilling to pay for.
Determining exactly what the client is asking for when they say they want flexible fees ultimately comes down to having a detailed conversation. These clients want a firm that both listens to their needs and responds accordingly. It may be more about the client’s perception of a firm that is willing to listen and work together to find a mutually-agreeable solution. If they feel that their firm of choice is eager to understand and collaborate, that customer-oriented nature may be just as critical as the ability to find a budgetary solution.
A request for transparency often seems particularly unmanageable. Is it even possible to give a client a glimpse behind the curtain of a process that is so complex? Rather than dismissing it or explaining the technological difficulty of such a request, try to understand the root cause of the request.
This appeal may be more aligned with the idea of information sharing. These particular clients may have familiarity with legal operations. According to the 2019 Altman Weil Chief Legal Officer survey, nearly 40 percent of CLOs have an administrator or legal operations manager and believe having that dedicated resource is the most effective way to improve efficiency. These clients, therefore, expect to be treated more as a colleague than a client. A solution to this may be as simple as providing reports or other documents on a regular, predetermined basis.
This ask may also have been a result of a mistake or misstep by a previous firm. This client may have their guard up. By addressing this head on, you can alleviate those concerns.
Lastly, it could simply come down to managing a budget. Perhaps they only want to ensure that they are getting what they paid for. A Thomson Reuters survey of 106 corporate general counsels and assistant general counsels revealed that the number one reason firms move work from one firm to another is a lack of value or firm inefficiency. While transparency can help you demonstrate your value to the client, transparency can also mean many things to different people. Determining what that means to each of your clients can be the difference between retaining and losing their future work.
Project management is something of a buzzword these days. When a client makes this demand, it may have more to do with thinking it’s something they need rather than it being something they really need.
By asking detailed questions, you can determine what it is they truly value. It may have more to do with the aforementioned “transparency” than actual project management. Perhaps they want to be in the know on project plans and budgets. A request of that nature is likely one that your firm can handle with existing resources rather than true project management tools and teams.
If the client asks for more complex insights, like understanding your workflow and who the assigned project manager is, take note. You may have a client who is familiar with true project management and has high expectations for both your firm’s output and approach. This is a less-common scenario. If these inquiries become more frequent, however, your firm may want to discuss whether a more robust legal project management system is worth the investment.
Make client intake a positive experience
It’s become trite to say that clients are more demanding than ever. But it’s a truth that deserves more than a knee-jerk reaction from law firms. By asking probing, meaningful questions as part of the intake process, your client will feel respected and heard. It allows you the opportunity to truly understand their needs while managing expectations upfront.
Having these conversations at the outset provides value for all parties. That value – oftentimes undefinable and elusive – can be the key to a long-term, successful business relationship.