Client care by understanding

Much is said about the importance for law firms to nurture their clients and to focus on building strong client relationships. But in reality, how successful are law firms on taking care of their clients? This subject has been addressed in some recent articles that suggest that law firms have quite a lot to learn in respect of client care.

Jordan Furlong has for example examined the objections against alternative fee arrangements in the blog post “Your Client Is Not Your Enemy”, which surprisingly also were raised by clients since “they don’t want to accept fixed fees because the figure that the lawyer, always having his own financial interests uppermost in mind, would only offer an AFA if it was guaranteed to produce more revenue than the billable hour model would have generated. Basically, this means many lawyers and clients believe that, given the opportunity, the other side will exploit any given pricing system to its own advantage.”

Another example of misdirected client care (or rather uncare) is law firm pitches that are made without any understanding of the client or the client’s perception. In the very funny and ironical post “Anti-Arbitration: Feedback on Your Recent Pitch” that is really recommended to read in full, Senior Counsel of GE Oil & Gas Michael McIlwrath thanks a law firm for their recent pitch that made him “feel as though we were just fungible in-house counsel holding the purse strings of a generic company on your prospective clients list”.

Michael McIlwrath provides some real candid feedback to the law firm on the importance of understanding its audience, such as only focusing on arbitration and not mentioning mediation, when some of the peer companies have provided substantial funding to help start the International Mediation Institute, and indulging in boring, non-constructive, discussions on the competitiveness of the fees without proposing anything different than any other law firm’s pitch. The best advice to the firm is the final one by Michael McIlwrath: “To understand why we are strong believers and how your practice might fit with us, you would need to go deeper in understanding who we are, how we operate as a company, and what kind of reputation and image we try to put forward.”

The importance of understanding the client has also been told in the legend about a Long Island fisherman who thought like a fish instead of a fisherman, thereby catching much more fish. Ian Brodie has made an allegory of this to clients in the post “Think like a fish”. “OK – so it sounds simple, trite even. But how many of us really think like our clients? Sure, you’ve probably skimmed the market research. Maybe even read the results of feedback or focus groups which reveal what clients feel comfortable sharing in public. But how often have you put yourself in their shoes? Immersed yourself in what it must be like in their position?”

Or as Jordan Furlong concludes “Lawyers will lose the battle for lead position within clients’ portfolio of legal providers if we cannot restore the sense of trust to our clients. Clients say they want their lawyers to provide excellent service, at competitive and predictable prices, in a timely and professional manner, and all of this is true. But what clients most want from their lawyers, what they’re really purchasing, is peace of mind. When a client buys a legal product or service, he or she is buying reliability, security and assurance – in a word, trustworthiness. And you can’t sell trustworthiness unless you yourself are trusted.”

So, do not do as the law firm that made the pitch for GE Oil & Gas. Instead, do your homework, take the time to really understand your client and “think like a fish”.