The modern law firm is less about the lawyers and more about the client
As the legal industry has evolved, especially in recent years, models have shifted away from placing lawyers at the center of the universe. In a modern law firm, clients come first.
Even non-lawyers know the old-school law firm stereotype of long hours, cutthroat competition (both in-house and with other firms) and the quest to make partner. On paper, and in practice, that law firm model has played itself out for many in the profession.
Forbes contributor and legal industry expert, Mark A. Cohen writes about firms of decades past:
“Law was whatever lawyers said it was. Legal practice was synonymous with the delivery of legal services. The economic terms of engagement between law firms and clients were dictated by firms. Firms maintained stability and a de facto succession plan by weaning out a talent pool from associates willing to work long hours in the hope of becoming partner. Partners rarely left the firm…”
In short, lawyers and firms held the power. Clients paid the bills, but their needs didn’t necessarily count first.
Clients Drive Success
A more modern approach to law strips away some of the trappings of the status quo. For some firms, that means doing away with the traditional partner model entirely. For others, it means dropping the billable hour in favor of more transparent or simplified billing models.
Clients sit at the center of most of this law firm evolution. They have begun to expect more from their legal service providers in terms of efficiency, transparency, value and delivery. In addition, client relationships drive success. As BTI Consulting observes of the most successful law firms:
“The law firms with the best client relationships enjoy better performance than all others. This includes large firms, mid-sized firms, and small firms. Show me a firm with strong relationships (not matters but recurring relationships) and I will show you a high-performing firm.”
Take note of that emphasis on recurring relationships vs. matters. We’re not talking about sheer volume, but repeat business. Those repeat clients also tend to be the ones who refer other business your way.
Cultivating Client Relationships
In an article for Clio’s blog, contributor Teresa Matich offered this advice for creating a client-centered law firm:
- Put clients at the center of your thinking. Consider how every new process, tool or strategy will impact your client’s experience and end result.
- Think about your client’s journey. Marketers operate in a world dominated by customer personas and buyer journeys, and law firms can learn from these ideas. Each of your clients comes to you with a different need and at a different stage of their decision-making. Meet them where they are.
- Deliver what clients need. Hint: What they need goes beyond the service you sell. Consider the emotional or intangible needs behind each client’s case or challenge.
- Never assume. You can’t read your clients’ minds, so ask them to share their needs, reactions and honest feedback.
- Maintain open and clear communication. Client service begins and ends with communication. Share both good news and bad news immediately. Be transparent. Provide updates and any helpful details and, of course, respond to questions as soon as possible.
She wraps up her advice with a reminder that investing in firm innovations and efficiencies ultimately benefits both you and your client. So, even in a client-centered firm, operations and business decisions should factor into your strategy.
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