Legal services are a buyer’s market. To get ahead, law firms must go beyond mere satisfaction.
Anyone who has had to constantly live up to the demands of other people can tell you, it can leave you feeling stretched thin, to say the least. The same can be said of some business relationships. There are client expectations that simply must be met, they’re not optional. But living for (and up to) those expectations can be exhausting.
One reason for that exhaustion is simply volume. Your law firm has multiple clients, each with their own needs. Meet them or watch that client walk out the door (possibly taking a piece of your reputation as they go).
Another toll client expectations can take is psychological. It’s simply not enough for people to exist purely as ciphers to their customers. No matter how noble your intentions were for getting into this business, there must be an element of self-service to your work. It’s what gives a person meaning from within. Spend all your time and energy living up to someone else’s expectations and you’re sure to burn out.
Shift your thinking away from client demands
Let’s be clear, yes, you still need to satisfy the expectations and requirements of your clients.
Corporate clients, in particular, have specific reasons for what type of work is delivered, how it is executed, and even how it gets billed. Often these parameters and processes are defined and agreed upon in the contract negotiation process.
These are your Client Demands, and no matter how challenging or… demanding they may be, they’re actually just the baseline of acceptable performance from your law firm. Your staff needs to meet them, period. Once a contract is signed those are the terms, take them or leave them.
But if your focus is only reactive, if you aim only to meet those demands, you’ll never really transcend the expectations of your clients. If all you offer is what’s expected, you aren’t delivering anything unique. Your law firm becomes expendable, interchangeable, a casualty of the buyer’s market.
Case in point: Learning more about your firm through e-billing
Look no further than electronic billing processes for example. It obviously matters to corporate clients. According to the Thomson Reuters 2019 Legal Tracker Law Department Operations Index, E-billing/Spend & Matter Management was listed as the most important technology solution for corporate legal departments. Those same respondents list “general enforcement of billing guidelines” as the top best practice they use to manage their legal spend, with 89% of legal departments identifying it as an effective cost control measure.
Now suppose you have a contract stipulating that your client will not allow block billing. Of course, your firm is willing and able to meet that expectation. You set up the parameters within your e-billing software, you educate your finance staff on the rule, and your attorneys are all aware of the fact that they need to track their time separately for this client.
That could be a lot of work to just meet the minimum standard of the client. But what choice do you have? Well, you could choose to turn the situation to your advantage. Perhaps a side-effect of those demands is a clearer view of the time allocation this client requires.
Over time, you use the data generated by each e-bill to discover opportunities for greater efficiency within your firm. That, in turn, could lead to a new perspective that highlights the effectiveness and value your associates provide. That’s a stark contrast to approaching this requirement as just another in a long line of red tape.
Around each demanding client, a silver lining
It’s possible. Imagine turning your past clients’ needs into positive changes within your firm and bringing that story into future conversations with prospects. What if you could show how your firm not only listens to clients and meets their demands, but turns those situations into an opportunity to improve the level of services rendered and deliver more value to clients?
That’s the type of advantage that comes from shifting your focus away from reacting to the demands from others, and towards developing your own unique value as a law firm.
So stop being reactive and start being responsive. Deliver the service your clients require. But look beyond what’s asked. Define your law firm’s value on your terms and give them something more than what was negotiated. It’ll make your firm more valuable to the client. It’ll make your workforce feel like they matter as individuals. And it’ll elevate you beyond your competitors.
After all, anyone playing at your level can meet expectations. It’s up to you to deliver more than what’s expected.