At TGO Consulting we regularly talk with clients of law firms. Despite what you can read in reports and magazine articles, law firm clients in general are reasonably satisfied with the product and the service they get. When prompted, some of the law firm clients will obviously say that they would rather pay less, but overall even pricing does not seem to be a major issue.
So what, according to law firm clients could be improved:
Avoid the ‘black hole’ When a client has instructed a lawyer on a matter, continuous communication is key. Clients really hate it when they are not regularly updated on what the lawyer is doing. Your clients want to know what you have done on the matter so far and what you expect to be doing next. If you want happy clients, communicate proactively and regularly. This could be a weekly email or a brief call, just don’t leave the client in the unknown.
Discuss ‘risk appetite’ The clients of business law firms are businesses. They have to make money and their world ideally does not revolve around legal issues. Businesses have to take risks all the time and also legal risks are part of the game. Unlike his clients, a lawyer - by nature - has zero tolerance for risks. Upon instruction of the matter it is important to explicitly discuss the client’s risk appetite. If lawyers were plumbers, they would by default advise golden plumbing as gold will never deteriorate and will last forever without malfunctions. Unless you are designing the plumbing for a Space Station, golden plumbing is way over the top. In most real world situations PVC will do. This applies equally to legal matters: for most clients in most situations it is not useful to eliminate every potential risk. So please discuss with your client before you start.
PETT invoices As mentioned above clients in general can live with the rates that their law firm will charge them. However, what clients really hate are unpleasant surprises. Clients tend to prefer the certainty that a matter will cost 20.000 monthly for the next 12 month (240.000 in total), over not knowing what to expect and receiving a surprise invoice of 210.000 after 12 months. So Predictability may well be more important than the actual total sum.
Predictability is what the P in PETT stands for. The E stands for Efficiency. As long as the legal world is centered around time based billing, clients will have to pay for all time the lawyers spend on a matter. Effectively for the client this is a leap of trust. Clients are used to this and accept that time is a big unknown in the handling of a matter. However clients want lawyers to handle the matter in an efficient manner. Lawyers will have to assure their clients that they are efficient in their way of working. Today, increasingly, use of modern technology is part of being efficient.
How do you assure your client that you are highly efficient? By being totally transparent. That is why the first T in PETT stands for Transparency. Transparency is about more than a detailed specification with the invoice. It also means active communication what has been done and what still needs to be done. Not only in terms of activity but also in terms of anticipated costs involved. Transparency also includes any unforeseen hiccups that might impact the outcome of the proceedings. Being open and proactive about bad news as well as good news is an essential part of your relationship with your client.
The last T stands for ‘timely’. Again no surprises. Send your invoices monthly promptly after a month has ended. Your clients hate being surprised by an invoice months after the matter has been closed. Mentally they have moved on and the cost of a previous matter is always something they didn’t count with.
Dialogue. The issues addressed in this weeks blog are pretty basic and simple. Essentially it all boils down to ‘dialogue’. Clients want to have a permanent open and meaningful dialogue with their lawyer. Surprisingly, there are still many lawyers that are not too keen on having an open and active dialogue with their clients. They rather ‘hide’ behind their desk and communicate by occasional emails than picking up the phone or meeting in person. Many lawyers strive to be their client’s ‘trusted adviser’. It is hard to imagine a trusted adviser who does not have the essential dialogue with the client.