One of the great political operators of the mid-90’s was James Carville, who consulted Bill Clinton on his first presidential run. Carville hung a sign outside Clinton’s Little Rock campaign headquarters with three messages that were simple, to the point, and effective:
- Change vs. More of the Same
- The Economy, Stupid
- Don’t Forget Health Care
With thanks to Carville and Clinton, I believe these three messages will also similarly define the future of the legal industry. So how do they apply in relation to legal service providers?
Change vs. More of the Same
The client experience provided by traditional law firms is far from perfect. A CXINLAW Australian report gauged client sentiments towards legal service providers as ‘unfriendly’ and ‘unresponsive’. The most recent research of the Australian legal market suggests that no firm has been able to gain more than a 2.5% market share. Clearly this indicates no one firm has managed to create a service that works for everyone. Client dissatisfaction doesn’t arise because partners don’t do a great job of servicing their clients. Instead, dissatisfaction arises because there is a lack of consistency and transparency in the delivery of legal advice. If there’s one thing consumers (and clients) hate, it’s a lack of consistency and transparency.
McDonald’s might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but wherever you are in the world, your Big Mac will be delivered in about 60 seconds with “two beef patties, ‘special sauce’, iceberg lettuce, American cheese, pickles, and onions, served in a three-part sesame seed bun.” Consumers go to McDonalds because they are familiar with the consistent offering. This is of course also true at the heady heights of haute cuisine, Michelin starred restaurants. Customers to go Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons because they want the highest quality haute cuisine, and that’s what they get, every single time.
This consistency in service delivery isn’t commonly found in the legal industry. At most traditional full-service law firms, each partner does things his or her own way, with little consistency in product delivery. Indeed, the partnership structure that most traditional law firms employ are founded on the fact that they are collections of individuals.
In this context change, a structure change (i.e. the provision of clear, structured, cost-effective and consistent legal advice) is a no brainer. Why? Because what’s currently being provided is, in large, not fit for purpose and clients don’t want more of the same – they want high-quality legal services delivered promptly and consistently every time.
The Service, Stupid
‘The economy, stupid’ message consciously echoes the common design principle ‘Keep it simple, stupid’. It’s a reminder about the need to stay focussed on what is really important. If you’re an avid reader of articles on legal disruption, you’ve probably noticed that an overwhelming majority of the focus is on technology. Lawyers seem to love reading about how they will be replaced by “robots” or “AI”. Technology is of course vital to the future of law firms, but the truth of the matter is, that most clients don’t really care about what technology you’re using to deliver a service. It’s the service itself they’re interested in.
If you provide a fantastic service to your clients, across all areas of your firm, you’ll be doing better than almost every other firm out there. When managing a firm with a reasonable amount of scale (let’s say $10m+ revenue), the only way to ensure a consistently high level of service is by building systems and processes around that service.
Most lawyers assume that quality service is something personal that can’t be structured. This could not be further from the truth.
If you want to provide a consistently exceptional service to your clients, you need to invest in the structure and repetitive processes that underpin it. This means having:
- a dedicated client experience team;
- a client success function;
- a clear process to be followed at all stages of the client journey; and
- an audit function that checks all processes are followed.
Ultimately, great service is no different to great legal advice – to get the required output you need to invest in the inputs that create it and especially investing in a team that can deliver.
Don’t Forget Technology
Finally, don’t forget technology. Although clients care less about your tech stack than you think they do, it’s still very important for client service delivery. In my view, the key to success in the legal industry over the next few years will be placing technology at the heart of the business. Unfortunately, most law firms are run by lawyers who only have a limited understanding about technology (familiarity with your early 2000s dictaphone does not count). If you want technology to be key to what you’re doing as a business, the only way to do it is to ensure a software engineer holds a key decision-making position in your business.
Law firms who embrace technology in the delivery of legal services will give their lawyers an unfair advantage to providing a great service. Technology is a tool that lawyers can use to do their jobs better, faster and consistently. You also need lawyers who will embrace technology in their day-to-day work.
The future of the legal industry is changing, and by looking at past lessons from Carville and Clinton, focusing on ensuring structural change to shape a change to ensure consistency, all while embracing technology in the delivery of legal services, proves to be paving the way of the future.
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