Creating a small law firm culture of excellence

In the modern legal landscape, evolving demands from clients can pose a challenge to firms of all sizes. Creating a small law firm culture of excellence can help boutique firms stand out from the crowd and compete.

First, let’s take a look at how law firm client expectations have changed in recent years:

Meeting modern law client needs

We have discussed a number of times how offering alternative fee structures can meet one common requirement of today’s client base. However, many clients now seek more than cost savings when they seek out small law firms.

As lawyer Kim F. Ebert observed for Best Lawyers:

“More than ever, clients now look for value in their legal representation. That doesn’t mean the lowest price. Instead, each client typically now has a unique definition of value that aligns with his or her core business strategy. Value can correlate directly with price, of course, but more often it’s a matter of price certainty—a concrete plan on which the client can rely and budget accordingly.”

The idea of “value” comes up regularly as experts examine the changing legal industry. Ebert’s point in that last sentence bears repeating: Clients want transparency and certainty when budgeting for legal services. Most individual and corporate clients will now shy away from the open-ended, and less certain, billable hour.

Beyond fees, what do clients want? Uncovering those hidden needs could give you the true edge in terms of showing potential clients the value of your legal services.

Consider a recent American Bar Association survey, which revealed a surprising result:

“…in a recent survey we conducted of more than 1,300 legal consumers in the US, we identified that 57% faced a legal problem in the past two years that they did not pursue legally (whether it be going to court or filing a legal document)—meaning they either ignored the issue or dealt with it themselves outside of the legal system.

What’s even more shocking is that 68% of respondents spoke with, and 58% had a formal consultation with, a lawyer whom they did not hire.”

With more than half of potential clients circumventing professional legal services entirely, there is a clear need to communicate value. We need to do a better job of showing clients why working with a professional meets their needs.

Defining ‘culture of excellence’

As you consider what you want to convey to potential clients and existing clients, begin and end with communication. Clear and helpful communication will help establish a strong professional relationship from the outset.

Communication serves your brand and lays the foundation for a culture of excellence at every step:

  • When a lead comes in, respond within one business day. That responsiveness shows a new client that your firm takes care of people efficiently.
  • When you do respond, provide more detail than the client requested. Take it upon yourself to educate each prospect about the nuances of your practice area. While some clients might know exactly why they need you, assume that others need more information.
  • Keep the client’s perspective in mind. As you communicate, don’t switch on “sell” mode right away. Listen and respond in a way that places the client’s question or need first. Talk about yourself later; and only if it adds to the conversation.
  • Communicate your process. In a one-click world, many people don’t fully understand how long each process might take. When you communicate clearly, you manage client expectations and help prevent future misunderstandings.
  • Follow up. Check in with your client, personally, at various points along the way. After you have completed service on their case, include them in ongoing communication (with their permission) that offers helpful tips and advice.

It goes without saying that your culture of excellence should also include top-notch legal services. Strong communication helps clients understand the value of your work: Never assume that your work speaks for you on its own.

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