Saturday, April 7, 2007

What do clients want, really?

So often in business you hear “listen to your customers”, “be customer-driven,” “focus on the customer’s needs”. Companies spend a lot of money on customer surveys, focus groups and market analysis to really understand their customers. If it applies to every other business, why not the legal profession?

Well…it does! But, it is harder to do with legal and other professional services, where you are providing more intangible than tangible work product. What lawyers are selling is the application of knowledge in a personal relationship based on trust. Great legal work is not delivered in a fedex package, but in a timely, thoughtful, consistent and effective manner. Right?

Yes, and no. The quality of an attorney’s work product is not always as important as the perception of its quality. Lawyers may provide great services, but that only addresses what their clients need. Lawyers must also understand and address what their clients want. According to Seth Godin, a marketing guru, people buy what they want not what they need (from his book All Marketers Are Liars). So, how do you know what clients want?

One way is to take a client (or prospective client) to lunch. Jim Hassett, a business development trainer, suggests that lawyers specifically ask what clients like and dislike about working with law firms. Another way is to send clients a questionnaire (electronically or on paper). These are useful exercises, which I have done in the past, but seldom do clients feel comfortable answering these questions directly. And, even if they do, their responses are limited at best.

Well, an extraordinary thing happened on January 25, 2007, Mark Chandler, General Counsel of Cisco Systems, Inc., made a speech answering the question as to what clients want and detailing exactly what he as a client dislikes about law firms today. In that speech, he said clients want “access to information, strategy, and negotiation” and he challenged the legal profession to change its delivery of services and to improve its productivity and efficiency through the use of new technology. His presentation is accurate and insightful. And his conclusions are compelling.

For anyone trying to build Law Firm 2.0, the law firm of the future, I highly recommend that they read Mr. Chandler’s speech. In it, I believe, you will find the blueprint for building Law Firm 2.0. The article starts with the premise that technology is driving change in knowledge-based industries and concludes that law firm need to respond to those changes.

Based on this speech, here is a list of questions that I think every law firm must consider:

  • How does the Internet, with its easier access to information, people and tools, affect the legal profession? Where and how should legal work get done today?
  • What does it mean for a law practice to be metrics-driven? What measurements can be used to improve productivity and efficiency of a law practice?
  • What kind of knowledge management systems are needed? How can lawyers more effectively share information and resources with clients?
  • How can lawyers more effectively share knowledge or otherwise collaborate among themselves?
  • How do law firms attract and retain associates today? What technologies are needed to communicate with younger associates? Is it instant messaging, online chat, forums, podcasts, RSS feeds, or some new legal management system?
  • How should legal information and services be delivered to clients? In what ways should law firms change delivery of their services from 1-to-1 to 1-to-many? What information is suitable for distribution to clients on the basis of 1-to-many?
  • How can legal services be billed so as to ensure that greater value is provided to clients every year? How can legal services be standardized?
  • How can technology drive down the cost of delivering legal services?
  • How can contracts and forms be standardized? What tools can be used for development, access and maintenance of those contracts and forms?
  • How can clients assume more responsibility in the preparation and delivery of legal services that will improve the quality of the work product and lower their costs for legal services?

Also worth noting is the Peter Lattman’s blog for the WSJ and the comments from his readers on Mark Chandler’s speech.

How is technology driving change in your law practice? What do your clients really want?

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