Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

Category: Client Service

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Mar 15, 2012


Improving Relationship With Insurance Company Clients

Question:

Our firm, a 17 attorney firm in St. Louis, Missouri, is have a major problem with client defections. We practice in the area of insurance defense exclusively. We have lost several insurance company clients and for those that we are working with – our case assignments are dwindling. Any thoughts or suggestions?

Response:

Our firm recently completed client satisfaction interviews for several of our insurance defense law firm clients. Here are a few quotes and a summary of what these insurance company law firm clients told us:

1. We want to work with proactive attorneys that aren’t afraid to try cases.
2. Limit the number of people working on a file. I like consistent assignments.
3. I expect attorneys to get back to me by the next business day.
4. I like one partner and one associate per file.
5. Most of our billing issues with law firms is due to excessive use of associates time.
6. I get upset with attorneys that want to settle right before trial.
7. The primary reason that we terminate our relationship with our outside attorneys is not reporting to us in a timely fashion and poor communications.
8. I find that many lawyers are poor at managing their files and have poor basic communication skills. I work with lawyers that can do both of these things well.
9. I think that it is important that law firms provide value added services such as newsletters, legislative updates, e-alerts, seminars, etc on a “no charge” basis. These services are provided by most law firms these days. Such services help us do our jobs better, improves communications and the overall relationship between our organization and the law firm, keeps us up to date on changes in the law, and helps the law firm stay abreast of emerging needs in our business.
10. I will pay higher fees to lawyers that aren’t afraid to try cases.

I suggest that you start by talking to your clients. Much can be learned by talking to your clients. Structured telephone interviews conducted by a neutral third party can provide many surprises as well as answers. Client satisfaction interviews can be the best marketing investment that you can make.

Good Luck!

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

 

Nov 30, 2011


Reducing Bar Complaints and Improving Client Service

Question:

Our firm has 14 attorneys. Just this year three of our more senior attorneys have had bar complaints filed against them. One has been disciplined by the bar. How can we improve this situation?

Response:

Hopefully you have the right attorneys on the bus and they actually care and see the importance and value of client service. If not – an educational program for the entire firm combined with a coaching program for the offenders, if needed, might be a starting point.

Here are a few other suggestions:

1. Improve client selection. Learn to recognize problem clients and say no to some and do not represent them.

2. Use engagement letters as a tool to manage client expectations. Underpromise and overdeliver.

3. Ramp up your communications and communicate, communicate, communicate with clients as well as office team members. Communications problems with clients – both initially and later on in the engagement – is the root cause of most problems.

4. Insure that you have effective office systems for managing client work production, conflicts of interest, calendar and docket control, and overall case management.

Click here for our blog on client service

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

 

Aug 16, 2011


Law Firm Acquisition Due Diligence – Using Client Surveys To Ascertain Client Retention

Question:

Our firm, a 22 attorney law firm in Chicago, has been contemplating acquiring a 6 attorney firm in the suburbs. We believe we have done an adequate job of due diligence regarding financials, people, culture, systems, and practice-mix compatability. Our concern is client retention. What are you thoughts concerning how we can determine if the clients will stay with us?

Response:

Why not ask the clients.

Much can be learned by talking to the firm's clients. Structured telephone interviews and other forms of surveys conducted by a neutral third party can uncover many surprises as well as answers. Client satisfaction surveys can be one of the best due diligence tools that you can use. 

It is good business practice to see how clients might react to a acquisition or merger. Understanding where your prospective firm's clients stand and how they feel about service quality can be one of the most valuable inputs into your due diligence process that you can get your hands on. By finding out where your prospective firm's clients stand can tell you a lot of their future retention. 

Before you invest significant time, money, or effort in developing an overall acquision/merger implementation strategy, survey your prospective firm's clients to understand where their clients stand.   

You must be careful using this approach and insure that it is done with the permission and in concert with the prospective firm.  The approach must setup, communicated and coordinated properly. It must be sensitive to clients and done in a way to communicate and reinforce positive rather than negative signals to the clients involved. 

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

May 11, 2011


Using Legal Project Management to Improve Law Firm Profitability

Question:

I am the managing partner of our firm of 17 attorneys. Our practice is concentrated in insurance defense litigation. In an effort to provide the best services possible and differentiate ourselves we have been discussing whether we should implement a project management system. I have been reading more lately about legal project management and hearing more about it. Do you have any thoughts along this line?

Response:

Legal project management has become the hot topic of late and we are seeing articles, workshops, and seminars on the topic. Over the years project management has evolved into its own discipline with its own jargon, tools,  methodologies, software, etc. Project management as a discipline can become quite technical and complex. Many of the techniques such as PERT and CPM came from the department of defense and were initially utilized to manage projects such as the Polaris Submarine and space projects. The construction industry makes extensive use of project management techniques.

Considering that a legal matter is a project, particularly a large litigation matter, with many moving parts there has been a push by clients and an effort by law firms to look for ways to improve the management of matters and related resources, costs, timelines, etc. and to improve and streamline the overall process. Legal Project Management is a customized approach to matter management borrowing and applying some of the principles of project management and incorporating into a simpler and leaner model. Numerous workshops, training seminars, and publications are being offered on the topic.

The Hildebrandt Instute if offering a workshop in Chicago on June 21-22, 2011. Here is a link to more information on the workshop.  Here is a link to more information on the workshop. Ark Group also has a new publication out called – Project Management for Lawyers as well. Another good book, which can be ordered from Amazon, is Legal Project Management: Control Costs, Meet Schedules, Manage Risks, and Maintain Sanity, by Steven Levy.

As more clients push for improved processes and outcomes in the area of matter management and force various forms of fixed-pricing – law firms will find they need to utilize more sophisticated tools to ascertain matter risks, price services, and manage matters.

So I suggest you at least begin to evaluate some of the tools and approaches being used and get educated on them. However, be careful of getting into overly complex approaches and methods that are simply trying to push generic project management for it's own sake.

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

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

Sep 28, 2010


Characteristics of Successful Law Firms – Basic Building Blocks – Block 6 – Client Service

For the past five weeks I have been discussing the characteristics of successful law firms and introduced the following basic building blocks that successful firms typically have in place:

Partner relations, leadership, management, partner compensation, and planning blocks have been discussed. 

The sixth basic building block is client service. Successful firms deliver exceptional client service. They don't just meet client expectations – they exceed them. 

This is the decade of the client. Clients are demanding and getting – both world-class service – and top quality products. Many law firms have spent too much energy on developing new clients and not enough retaining old ones. For many law firms, obtaining new work from existing clients is the most productive type of marketing.

Delivering great client service is extremely important in today’s legal marketplace. More and more lawyers and law firms are competing for fewer clients while client loyalty continues to drop. It is no longer sufficient to simply be competent or an expert in today’s competitive legal environment – law firms must distinguish themselves by the service they provide. Lawyers and law firms must strive for 100% client satisfaction. Service is how many clients can tell one lawyer or law firm from another. 

Clearly, from what law firms' clients are telling us, lawyers and law firms need to improve client service by integrating a client-first service focus into everyday practice and getting feedback on performance.

Most clients can’t evaluate the quality of your legal work. What they can and do is evaluate the experience of working with you. 

Lets face it – customer and client expectations have changed across all industries. It is a buyers market and they know it. Today clients want it all – better, faster and cheaper. If you can’t provide it they will go somewhere else.

The key is to management client expectations – underpromise and overdeliver.

Click here to read my article series on client service.

I will address each of the other building blocks in upcoming postings.

John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC
www.olmsteadassoc.com

Sep 02, 2009


Is There a Number One Tip For Improving Client Service?

Question: We recently completed an informal client survey and were surprised at some of the feedback. Our scores were lower than anticipated. Clients believe that our services took longer than expected and fees were also higher than expected. We work as dilligently as we can for our clients and I don't see how we can improve turnaround or reduce legal fees. Suggestions?

Response: Based upon client surveys that we do for law firms we find that one of the biggest problems is that the attorneys are doing a poor job of managing client expectations. The key is to under promise and over deliver. I suspect that upon the initial client meeting you are under estimating the timeline and low balling the fee range. Increase the promise – timeline and fee range and then shoot to deliver under that range. This will do wonders for improving the client relationship.

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

Sep 30, 2008


Communication Skills

Question:

We are a 17 attorney IP firm in the Southwest and I am the managing partner. We are having a lot of problems with poor attitude in the office, inadequate production, employee turnover, and we have recently lost a few key institutional clients. I believe that the core of our problem may be poor communication skills on the part of our attorneys? What recommendations do you have?

Response:

Poor interpersonal communications is often the root cause of many of the management problems that arise in law firms. Here are a few ideas for improving interpersonal communication skills:

  1. Develop a series – a repertoire – of oral communications styles as well as languages to use in various situations with clients, colleagues, and employees.
  2. Understand and manage your clients expectations – (1) clients true objectives for the engagement, (2) the boundaries of your role, (3) kind of information you will use, (4) your role in the engagement and the role of your staff, (5) the product/service you will deliver, (6) what support and involvement you will need from the client, (7) time schedule, and (8) frequency and form of communication.
  3. Employ effective listening techniques with your clients – (1) client face-to-face engagement debriefings, (2) client satisfaction interviews – third party, (3) client site visits, (4) opinion surveys, (5) feedback questionnaires, and (6) client panels/focus groups.
  4. Employ effective office communications systems to faciliate communications with your employees – (1) weekly/monthly staff meetings with agendas and minutes, (2) satisfaction surveys, (3) daily meeting with your assistant, (4) performance reviews tied to a performance management approach.
  5. Match communications complexity to appropriate communications vehicles (face-to-face, telephone, e-mail, memo, letter, voice mail, etc.) Example: Use face-to-face to counsel or critique employees – not e-mail.
  6. Reduce communications noise – (1) setup MS Outlook not to automatically download e-mail, (2) put cell phones on silent, (3) develop cell phone protocols, and (4) use voice mail effectively.
  7. Incorporate the six client service principles into your daily behavior – (1) feel good about yourself, (2) practice habits of courtesy, (3) use positive communication, (4) listen and ask questions, (5) perform professionally, and (6) under promise and overdeliver.
  8. Develop written job descriptions and office policy and procedural manuals.

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

Jul 15, 2008


Is There a Number One Tip For Improving Law Firm Client Service

Question:

We recently completed an informal client survey and were surprised at some of the feedback. Our scores were lower than anticipated. Clients believe that our services took longer than expected and fees were also higher than expected. We work as dilligently as we can for our clients and I don't see how we can improve turnaround or reduce legal fees. Suggestions?

Response:

Based upon client surveys that we do for law firms we find that one of the biggest problems is that the attorneys are doing a poor job of managing client expectations. The key is to under promise and over deliver. I suspect that upon the initial client meeting you are under estimating the timeline and low balling the fee range. Increase the promise – timeline and fee range and then shoot to deliver under that range. This will do wonders for improving the client relationship.

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

Jan 08, 2008


Law Firm Client Satisfaction Surveys

Question:

We have recently lost a key partner, several key institutional clients, and we don't know why. We are considering doing a client satisfaction survey to insure that we are not falling asleep at the wheel and providing the best service possible. We also want to make sure we understand current client needs and whether our services are still adequate. What are your thoughts? 

Response:

For institutional clients we would recommend telephone interviews, face-to-face interviews, or a combination of both.

Typically, when we work with a client we establish the initial research objectives of the project and then the best way to achieve them. For example, do you just want obtain feedback from your top 10, 25, or 50 institutional/busines clients or your entire client base?

In the case of a study population of your top 10, 25, or 50 clients we usually recommend a telephone interview technique. We shoot for a 90%+ response/participation rate. We develop the questionnaire with the client and then conduct the interviews and compile a report consisting of both statistical metrics (grades if you will) and client commentary/narrative. Often it is the narrative commentary that provides the most actionable information. Recently, when conducting interviews of an insurance defense law firm's insurance company clients a client advised us that they had stopped sending new files/cases to the firm because of poor communication and status reporting. Based upon our interviews the firm was able to resolve the internal issues and repair the relationship with the client. The law firm was also contemplating implementing a blended billing rate structure and wanted us to obtain the client's reaction. We also obtain feedback from these clients on what topics they wanted presented in seminars that the law firm put on for their insurance clients – both in group sessions with other insurance company clients and private onsite sessions for individual insurance company clients.

Before conducting the interviews we ask the law firm client to contact the client and solicit (sell them on) their participation in the study. We then contact them, make the appointment, and conduct the interview. In our proposal for these services we pledge client confidentiality and are willing to sign a confidentiality agreement with the firm as well.

For individual clients, due to the number of clients, a paper mailed survey is typically used. The response rates will be less (30% tops usually), these will less narrative/commentary, less actionable information, and there will be no ability to probe. In these cases we develop the questionnaire, the law firm mails out the questionnaires for us, the returned questionnaires come to us directly in the provided reply envelope, we compile the data and the report and provide to the firm.

If you decide to handle the project in-house rather than outsourcing a similar approach would be recommended. Just insure that you staff and resource the project properly.

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

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