What do your law firm clients really want?

Ah the new year, so inevitably a huge round of new resolutions, of “we did X thing in 2018” summaries and a plentiful supply of “new year, new job” recruitment campaigns. Sigh.

I wonder how many people read them? I wonder how many care? I wonder if many clients even know that these items exist? Does your client actually want you to be spending your time on this?

When I speak to law firm owners (and that is all I do!) they are all trying to find ways to engage with their clients, to open up conversations with them and to get the right staff in the right locations (with the right abilities!) to do that. Yet at the same time clients tend to complain about a lack of responsiveness, of matters that “seem to take forever” and fee earners who cannot be reached.

Lexis Nexus publish an annual bell weather of the profession; even the titles of this survey over the last few years are illustrative. We’ve gone from a post recession (“Survive or thrive”- 2013), through the introduction of law tech (“The age of the client” - 2015), to the most recent warning about over confident lawyers and underwhelmed clients (“The culture clash” - 2018). Could it be that solicitors are so busy throwing themselves into the next round of PR and the next recruitment drive that they have simply forgotten to nurture their existing client base?

Tucked away in the back of the 2018 survey was a note that specialist firms tended to not feel the same regulatory, recruitment or fee pressure as generalists. Could it be that being a specialist (or being in a specialist firm) makes it easier to get a client to engage with you? The client after all is now employing you for your niche knowledge, for some sector contact or experience or clever intricacy that Google cannot provide. Thus they are much more eager to hear what you have to say and much more likely to pay for it!

In my own experience, working in a team that exclusively works with lawyers, we’re able to do something more in all sorts of background ways in all sorts of conversations. Sometimes in obvious places, where you might expect our niche advice (e.g. in setting profit sharing arrangements in a practice) to be required. Or in places where having a massive network, but one restricted to a single sector, opens a multitude of doors (e.g. in finding acquisitions targets). However, it is just as likely to happen in a “normal” compliance engagement (e.g. simply doing accounts and audit work) where even the most junior member of our team (who again, only works with lawyers) is capable of spotting efficiencies, of benchmarking the client to the previous ten clients they worked with and of making procedural suggestions that free up time, money and resources. All of this, of course is made much easier by having the experience and examples to enable such conversations – we work with 150-200 law firms a year and that gives a large knowledge bank of what good looks like (and in some cases what bad looks like too!).

So my advice is not to worry too much about new year resolutions or about the latest piece of glossy PR. Do two things: 1) really know your specialist area 2) talk to your client about it, often and proactively because that is all your client actually wants – some specialist knowledge delivered to them efficiently.

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