It’s all about the client

Trust and reputation and integrity are critical to the professionalism and success of a solicitor, forming part of the core elements of the level of professionalism required of solicitors by the regulator during the course of their legal work.

That said, solicitors and their firms need to understand that reputation and trust are the most important factors when it comes to individuals choosing a firm – in other words, trust and reputation are vital elements to consider when attracting new business as well as during a retainer.

This is one of a number of vital underlying messages for UK law firms following the biggest-ever client experience research project conducted in the legal sector.

The bench-marked research project was carried out by LawNet and involved almost 70,000 satisfaction surveys and 5,000 anonymous experience reviews involving member firms and other firms nationally. The research spanned the past six years to 2019, as part of its ISO 9001 audited Excellence Mark.

A further key conclusion from the research is that the recently-implemented price transparency rules require firms to open their costings and credentials to greater scrutiny.

Price is not all

Law firms may be surprised to learn that the research reveals just 4 per cent of new business is won on price; reputation and trust – and people – are vitally important to potential clients.

Key headlines from the research include:

  • Two-thirds of new business is generated through reputation and trust (30 per cent from existing clients, 19 per cent by recommendation and 17 per cent because of the people or character of the firm);
  • Overall consumer satisfaction across all firms in 2012 to 2013 was 89 per cent with targeted action by LawNet firms pushing this to 97 per cent. This, says LawNet, is significantly higher than the sector as a whole, where 84 per cent are satisfied;
  • Anonymously-conducted experience reviews showed overall performance by LawNet firms increased by 15 per cent from 2013 to 2019 to 67 per cent (58 per cent across the rest of the sector);
  • Clients need to understand how charging worked and this was more important that the actual price quoted. Also important is knowing the benefits of using the firm and being kept updated throughout the matter.

The results are backed up by other research. The Institute of Customer Experience, for example, identifies trust and increased personalisation as defining characteristics of a great consumer experience; and according to research by global data analytics firm Nielsen, people are four times more likely to buy when referred by a friend, with 84 per cent valuing personal recommendations most of all.

Online reviews

Online reviews (“the new word of mouth”) and peer-to-peer recommendations are increasingly being relied on (92 per cent of consumers say they read online reviews as part of their “buying journey”, according to marketing company BrightLocal) and posted by satisfied/dissatisfied customers or clients.

This is why LawNet has integrated its survey process with the ReviewSolicitors site to encourage customers to leave comments. Now, LawNet members, says the organisation, dominate the rankings on the review website.

A client focused strategy

The conclusions of the research are set out in LawNet’s recently published Mark of Excellence: Lessons for law firms, which sets out (among other things) how to build a client-focused strategy. Explaining the four steps of this strategy, LawNet says its research data has consistently shown that a firm-wide commitment to improving client experience, and to learning from measurement and tracking programmes, will have a big impact on outcomes.

It states: “Striving for excellence and continual improvement in this area needs to be embedded in the firm’s culture, reflected in its values and objectives and demonstrated by the leadership. From there, it must be communicated clearly and consistently to fee earners, management and support staff so each person understands their individual impact and is encouraged to take ownership with true employee engagement.”

Managing how this is done, across every aspect of how a firm functions is vital, as is the measurement of it. But LawNet points out that “No single metric can tell the whole story.” Instead, firms need to consider the “building blocks” that comprise a positive experience such as client satisfaction and engagement, loyalty and effort.

LawNet also stresses the importance of empathy, which involves being with your clients for the whole journey - involving your staff in it. An example “client journey map” embedded in the report identifies every point of contact and communication which firms will find useful.

What does this mean?

Firms have much to learn from this research. They must explain why a client should choose them above other firms and explain their charging system clearly at the outset. At present, only 70 per cent of clients say firms do so.

Helen Hamilton-Shaw, LawNet’s member engagement and strategy director, says the research suggests there is often a skills gap when it comes to talking about costs with clients. But she says: “It is an issue that responds well to targeted action, once firms know they need to develop skills. Across the network, the way that walk-in enquiries are handled has improved by 24 per cent in the past four years, and the way that staff handle a potential sales lead, by asking for permission to follow up on the enquiry, has shown a massive 41 per cent improvement.”

She says: “Once work has started, our research shows that clients ascribe most value to regular communication, timeliness and being kept up to date on costs. This highlights the need for firms to be client-focused and client-responsive throughout the matter, not just the start and end. The various touchpoints along the way, whether online, in person or through other means, offer many opportunities to learn for the future.

A culture focused on employee engagement supported by a joined-up learning programme is critical to ensure the business is always moving forward and exceeding client expectations.

The LawNet white paper can be accessed here.

 

 

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