It’s hard to think of a single industry, or even aspect of contemporary life, that hasn’t been altered by the ascent of digital technology. In particular, the consumer experience has been radically transformed. There’s far more transparency and choice, and higher expectations of convenience and communication. That goes for anything from buying bananas through Instacart or another online grocery service to choosing a seat at a movie theater, to comparing prices between airlines at the click of a mouse, and so forth. In this article we’ll talk about you can grow your law firm by improving your client experience.
This new consumer mindset impacts what clients expect from your law firm. Remember that your clients, and perhaps, more importantly, your potential clients, also buy bananas, movie tickets, and flights. Consciously or unconsciously, they carry these same new consumer behaviors and expectations when they choose a lawyer. That applies not just to individuals seeking legal counsel, but to SMBs and General Counsel at large companies.
This shift presents both challenges and opportunities for firms, because focusing on the new expectations for the consumer — or client — experience can give you an edge over the competition. At the same time, in an industry with a culture that developed slowly over centuries and is somewhat resistant to change, the default position is stagnation. Don’t default to stagnation– your business will suffer, and you may find yourself with difficulties attracting or retaining clients without understanding why. Instead, think about how you can improve the client experience you offer. Here are some ideas to consider:
CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software and technology are used in just about every industry, in one way or another, to keep consumers engaged and guide marketing strategy. It’s the best way to track conversion and retention. If your firm hasn’t yet adopted a CRM system, now’s the time. Remember that a mild annoyance such as a delayed response can easily prompt a potential client to move on to the next firm in their online search results, especially during intake, at which point you haven’t had an opportunity to build a relationship or establish trust.
A package such as Clio Grow will allow you to track each potential client as they move through your sales funnel so that no interaction falls through the cracks during your intake process. In turn, this streamlines your contacts with prospective clients and prevents delays that can jeopardize the potential new business. It’s also a powerful analytical tool, allowing you to track where your new business is coming from, and, if you find you are losing potential clients during the intake process, to zoom in on whatever areas are creating friction.
Once you’ve brought a new client on board, make life — or at least their legal affairs — as easy for them as possible. One great way of doing this is via a communication portal or platform optimized for the lawyer-client relationship. These packages create a centralized system to share documents and communicate about the status of a matter, without clients having to hunt through multiple email threads for attachments, or remember to cc: everyone at your firm who is working on a project, and so forth. It can also save you time responding to ‘What is the status of X’ emails and calls from clients by having timelines and workflow progress tracking available to them whenever they want.
There are a number of available platforms designed with the legal industry in mind. Here’s a primer on what to look for.
Nobody enjoys paying bills, even when they’re happy with the services they’re paying for. But the ‘billable hours’ model that has dominated the legal industry for decades is sometimes particularly unpleasant for clients. They get an invoice tallying up the time spent, which is often more than they anticipated, especially if they aren’t particularly experienced in legal matters and don’t have a comprehensive understanding of what you and your firm have done for them. This then creates anticipatory anxiety the next time they need your services, or worse yet, prompts them to look for another lawyer.
Don’t worry — this doesn’t mean you should work for free! It doesn’t even mean you should lower your fees, assuming you’re competitive with other firms in your practice area and location. But there are ways of restructuring how you bill your clients that will leave them feeling more positive about their experience and more likely to come back. In a recent article, Brooks Brothers General Counsel Rachel Barnett explained why she prefers to work with firms that offer alternative billing arrangements.
One approach to billing is to set pre-established fees for each matter you work on. This might result in lower payments in some cases than the same work billed by the hour, and higher payments in others. But if you structure your fees appropriately, you’ll be able to even your revenue out. Clients will have a better experience — and be more likely to return. Contingency and success-based fees for some matters can also be part of alternative billing arrangements.
Another impact of the changing consumer technology landscape is that we’re all used to paying monthly subscription fees — for our cell phones, for our Netflix access, and so forth. Professionals such as concierge doctors and fractional CFOs have caught onto this model, and it’s a valuable tool for lawyers as well. By providing your clients with some legal services via subscription, you can improve both the communication and billing issues discussed above. If your clients pay a monthly fee for access to simple legal services, not only do you create an avenue for regular interaction with clients you might otherwise only hear from periodically, but you also ease the pain of billing by removing some per-project payments — which is particularly attractive to clients with regular legal needs who prefer to be able to predict their cash outflows, such as many small businesses.
And, of course, subscription fees can be a new recurring revenue stream for you and your firm. Designed and implemented skillfully, the subscription fees will surpass the billable hours you’re theoretically losing by offering some services on a subscription basis — and, again, help you maintain the kind of positive relationships with clients that ensure they come to you when they have larger matters. ONE400, as a legal technology firm, is at the forefront of the legal subscription trend, and we’ve helped many firms set up these systems with great success. Here’s why you should consider offering a subscription service model to your clients.
Most law firms don’t know much about their clients. That does not mean in the sense of friendly small-talk areas such as family and vacation plans and so forth — though it’s good to keep track of those areas as well! What it means is that firms don’t have a clear picture of how their clients feel about their experiences and relationship. Lawyers often don’t realize a client is less than satisfied until they walk out the door, or simply hire another firm next time they require legal services. At which point, obviously, it’s too late to do anything to retain them.
That’s why you should use technology to learn more about your clients’ experiences and make sure they’re happy. Customer Satisfaction Survey software solutions enable your firm to find out what your clients are truly feeling. This is often more effective than asking them directly, because they may feel more comfortable filling out an online form, especially if there are issues that might ultimately prompt them to look for another lawyer but which they aren’t comfortable bringing up with you directly. You can then use this feedback to improve your services and communication. Here’s a primer about how to set up a survey, and what questions to ask.
Knowing more about your clients will help you hone what you offer and how you interact with them, as well as inform your marketing strategy. It’ll also make it easier for you to steer your practice as it expands by using the data to predict client needs.
The legal industry is always changing, but paradoxically, what doesn’t change is that it changes more slowly than the rest of society, for the most part. That’s a bit of a tongue-twister, but it’s true. At any given moment, there are law firms whose business is contracting because some other competing firm has adapted more quickly to the changing needs and expectations of clients. If you keep in mind that clients are evaluating you via their entire experience, not just the quality of the actual legal work you’re doing for them, you’ll evolve in tandem with the marketplace, rather than lagging behind.
At ONE400, our award-winning team of experts helps law firms grow by focusing on and enhancing, some aspects of their business or the overall experience they offer their clients. Get in touch with ONE400 today for a no-obligation introductory consultation.