Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

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January 2011

Jan 26, 2011


Law Firm Client Surveys

Question:

I am a legal administrator in a 20 attorney firm in southwest Texas. My partners have been expressing concern about loss of several key clients and wants to know what we can do determine why this happened and what we can do to improve client service? I have been thinking about doing a client survey? What are your thoughts?

Response:

Much can be learned by talking to your clients. Structured telephone interviews and other forms of surveys conducted by a neutral third party can provide many surprises as well as answers. Client satisfaction surveys can be the best marketing investment that you can make. Our law firm clients have found their clients to be impressed that the firm cares about their opinions. It is good business to listen to your clients. Understanding what bugs people about your services and those of your competition can be the most valuable input to strategy development you can get your hands on. Find out what bugs your clients and you will learn to out-think and out-service your competitors.

Before you invest any time, money, or effort in developing an overall strategy for service improvement, you must survey your clients to understand what your clients want and expect from your firm. An initial survey helps you identify the starting point for your service improvement journey.

Planning The Survey

The type of survey that your firm chooses depends on your purpose for doing the survey. Are you looking for some insight into why you’ve lost clients? Are you interested in getting a general idea of how your clients feel about your firm? Following are some of the basic types of surveys that you may want to consider:

Random Client Survey or Census

These surveys are used to measure overall client satisfaction and highlight any widespread service problems and identify new business opportunities. A random survey involves selecting a percentage of your clients (sample), contacting them by phone, mail or in person (or a combination of all three), and asking them to evaluate the services they receive from your firm. A census involves surveying all clients rather than taking a sample.

Lost Client Survey

This type of survey is used if your firm wants to know why you have lost a particular client or group of clients. With this survey interviews are conducted (usually by telephone or in person) with clients that no longer do business with your firm. Let the client know that you are sorry that he or she is no longer doing business with your firm and that you are interested in learning from your mistakes. Understanding your client’s reason for leaving will help you make improvements for future clients. One of the greatest benefits for this type of survey is that you are often able to discover the specific reason a client left.

Key Client Survey

Rather than doing a random survey of your client base, you may want a more targeted and focused survey of a particular client group. For example, if 80 to 90 percent of your business comes from ten clients, you may want to create a survey that is specifically targeted to them. The advantage of a targeted key client survey is that it is limited in scope and precisely focused. Before you commit time and resources to a client survey identify your purpose and establish specific goals and objectives.

Develop a survey plan. Insure that a follow-up strategy is incorporated into the plan.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Jan 18, 2011


Law Firm Profit Improvement

Question:

Our firm is in its second generation. While we are proud that we have been in business for over 60 years we also believe we need to re-examine our practice and embrace changes that may be needed for the firm to move forward and remain competitive. We are a 16 attorney firm located in Wisconsin. We have 12 partners and four associates.

Response:

More and more law firms are re-examining their business models and approaches and running the practice as a business. You may want to begin by conducting a management review or audit to determine where the firm is presently and where the firm needs to head in the future. 

Start by Asking the Following Questions:

  1. Are firm members frustrated with the amount of money they are making and taking home?
  2. Are firm members unsure whether the firm is competitive with other law firms?
  3. Is the firm taking advantage of some of the management “Best Practices” being used by successful law firms and possibly your competitors?
  4. Are firm members concerned about getting a handle on and controlling the financial aspects of the firm?
  5. Are firm members uncertain about the future and long-term direction of your firm?
  6. Are firm members frustrated with the lack of accountability of other attorneys and staff?
  7. Is everyone effectively managing their time?
  8. Are members concerned about the firm getting and keeping clients?
  9. Are members concerned about work-life balance?
  10. Are members concerned about the succession and exit of key partners?

I suggest that you conduct a practice management review that will provide you with a clear assessment of the firm’s practices and performance and outline a plan for implementing “Best Practices”. The assessment should focus on:

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Jan 12, 2011


Changes and Challenges Ahead For Law Firms and Lawyers

Question:

Our firm is conducting a planning retreat next month. We have had retreats in past years that have focused on “touchy feely” programs for the attending partners. This year we really want to focus on a strategy and plan for the future. What do you see as primary changes and challenges ahead for law firms and lawyers?

Response:

The internet as well as advances in information technology has and will continue to be the key driver forcing change in the legal marketplace as well as other segments and our daily lives as well. Being the king of the hill or the biggest is not the strategic advantage that it once was. The internet is leveling the playing field in many industries as well as law firms.  There are new opportunities and new competitors. Consider the following:

  1. Everything is being commoditized. More practice areas are moving down the value curve and prices are becoming more price sensitive.
  2. Disintermediation of traditional delivery channels. The internet provides new access to information and is eliminating the middleman. It is impacting how we shop, bank, conduct business, and pay our credit cards and taxes. It is also impacting how clients locate and select lawyers and how legal services are delivered.
  3. Our society is becoming – more and more – a DIY (Do it Yourself) nation.
  4. Lawyers competitors are just a click away whether they be legal process outsourcing providers (LPO) in India, other lawyers in your state – but further away and servicing clients remotely, legal publishers, or online form providers.
  5. New client opportunities for your may also be just a click away.

Challenges and Questions to Think About

  1. How do you deal with commoditized transactions?
  2. How do you tie yourself to your client in an online world?
  3. How do you compete with new models and approaches to the delivery of legal services?
  4. How do you compete with virtual law firms?
  5. Would you consider adding a online delivery component to your traditional brick and mortar practice?
  6. Should you embrace legal process outsourcing and begin forming alliances and relationships or should you wait until your clients take the initiative themselves?

Click here for our blog on strategies

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Jan 05, 2011


Law Firm Succession – Practice Continuation Arrangements

Question:

I am a 55 year old sole practitioner in Chicago. I have two staff employees. I have recently been thinking about what I would do if I became sick or disabled? How would I take care of my clients and my employees? Would you share your thoughts in this regard?

Response:

While many lawyers and law firms are beginning to think about long range succession issues and the need for long range succession plans, many have not yet addressed the shorter range issues. At a recent presentation on succession/exit planning I was asked by a lawyer in the group the following question:

“What if something happens to me today or tomorrow – what is my backup plan?"

My presentation was focused on the longer term retirement issues but I also need to address issues such as short term illness, disability, death, and even vacations.

Many solo lawyers are in “reactionary mode” and have not adequately prepared backup plans in the event that, in the short term – prior to retirement – something would happen to them. For example:

Sound practice continuation arrangements can solve this dilemma and preserve practice value and can help prevent a lawyer’s spouse or immediate heirs from facing a hasty sale or disposition of the practice in an emergency.   A practice continuation arrangement can also give lawyer practitioners, their staff, and their family’s peace of mind.

What Is a Practice Continuation Arrangement

A practice continuation arrangement is an arrangement – typically in the form of an agreement or contract – made between an individual lawyer or a small law firm and another lawyer or law firm.  The arrangement describes a course of action to transfer a lawyer’s practice and sets payment for its value. In the event of vacation, temporary or permanent disability, or death a practice continuation arrangement protects the practice, the business interests of the lawyer or law firm’s clients and the financial interest of the lawyer and his or her family.

Approaches

There are different kinds of practice continuation arrangements. Typically a lawyer enters into a one-on-one agreement with another sole proprietorship, partnership or professional corporation in the community.  Agreements can range from simple “dual coverage for each other” for vacation or other temporary absences to sale of the practice in the event of long term disability or death.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

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