I ran another client feedback session yesterday from one of our client /introducer opportunity reviews – which work very successfully every time - to partners at a law firm client. This was just a small exercise that covered 6 individuals for 5 key clients.
From these independent 45 minute meetings with clients we identified substantial immediate opportunities to earn more fees at all clients; also, longer term opportunities with all of them and enough guidance to help the partners begin to think about both operational and strategic changes in their business.
Not only that, but the clients – without exception – very helpfully explained how our client law firm should tackle each of the opportunities with them.
These discussions dig deep very quickly because of the independent business-focused approach we take and the advance research we do on their business. “Columbo moments” are also invaluable. To give you a feel for what comes out of these sessions, here is just some of the feedback from one FD for just one of these clients:
- Need to get in now before they grow too much larger … and stick close as they are on the acquisition trail and the key contact may move on before too long. Given the contacts to do this.
- Should meet the in-house legal team, based relatively locally. As it turns out, one of the firm’s partners knows the new Legal Director from a previous company, but others didn’t know that he knew her.
- Get the legal team involved in training and CPD
- Found ways to get the MD on board too with seminar events
- Asking our law firm client to be more persistent in getting the FD to attend events – he wants to, but struggles to get there.
- Employment opportunities where work is currently handled by a larger firm at higher rates and at lower levels, so there’s an invitation here to offer a competitive service that our clients (with a specialist employment team) hadn’t presented yet. The FD believes that big benefits on price and quality of advice could be achievable?
- Longer term, develop solutions to take more responsibility for pro-active management of their property portfolio. The business is growing through acquisition, so our clients could at some stage soon (not just yet) make his life easier and take more control of this to build on an already excellent relationship with our clients in this area.
- Offer a package on personal legal services to their 900 plus, locally based employees … except employment.
- Commercial contracts – should be potential to do more at some level by developing the relationship with the legal team. Contacts given and an offer to introduce us to the right people (although that proved not to be necessary).
- Personal legal advice and wealth management for Directors has never been offered – to prove how good we are so you can feel good about recommending us to their employees
- Our clients need to understand more about their business, so he pointed us at sources of information, also what he’s interested in reading about.
…. all in the 55 minutes this meeting stretched to in the middle of his hectic schedule because we were able to take a step back and talk about him and his business.
Statistics from Canada and the US show that many law firms don’t make client feedback a priority. A Legal Marketing Association (LMA) survey revealed that only 10% of the Canadian and US law firms that responded consider client feedback their top priority, while 20% rank feedback as their lowest priority. This is pretty consistent with the study’s 2008 findings (9% and 26%).
Canadian Lawyers’ more recent survey of 60 general counsels found that 72% had not been asked by their top law firms to participate in a client satisfaction survey. Surveyed clients report that firms that ask for input and act on results set themselves head and shoulders above the competition.
If you want to get closer to your key clients and set up a really effective key account management programme to capitalise where other firms are not working hard enough, contact Darren Francis or Allan Carton on 0161 929 8355.
Feedback from 712 legal IT people worldwide on the IT challenges law firms face – and the results might surprise you, whether you work in legal IT or in the IT business.
- Social media use in law firms for knowledge sharing and collaboration
- Tablet computers in law firms: Fad, or finally here to stay?
- What’s stopping law firms from moving into the cloud?
- Business intelligence: Now the norm, or still just for the ‘clever’ firms?
- Document management: Is SharePoint finally ready to take on the world?
- Changing up to Windows 7 and Office 2010: Challenges and opportunities
- Legal IT people: How do they feel about their role, and is it valued?
If you want to help your lawyers make better use of some of the technologies discussed in the report, contact Allan Carton.
With just over 6 months to go until the anticipated onset of Alternative Business Structures (ABS) on 6th October 2011, here’s a quick look at some of what’s happening in the legal marketplace.
- Optima Legal Services have been unravelling their relationship with Capita following the SRA’s intervention, with Capita’s share option being terminated, and Optima’s agreement to pay back the £35m loan it received from Capita.
- Co-operative Legal Services (part of the Co-operative Group) plan to apply for an ABS licence at the earliest opportunity, possibly as soon as August.
- Vamco (the repair management and credit hire specialist) is planning to take over a branch of Nesbit Law Group (under the name Kingsley Law).
- DAS (the Legal Expenses Insurer) intends to purchase Bristol law firm CW Law once permitted.
- ABStract Legal Holdings has brought within its group Accident Advice Helpline (the Claims Management Company), Sentinel Alliance (the Legal Process Outsourcer) and e-settle (the Fast-track Claims System).
- Judicata (the Legal Process Outsourcer) has been working with Premex (the medical reporting company).
- Berwin Leighton Paisner’s Managed Legal Services will provide employment law advice across Colt’s (the Information Delivery Platform’s) European businesses.
- AA and SAGA (the insurance companies owned by the same Private Equity firm) have tied up with Cogent Law (part of the Parabis Group) to offer on-line document assembly services, with the creation of Saga Legal Services.
Customer advocates are the holy grail of customer management. These much sought after and highly valuable customers attract new business through word of mouth recommendations without the need for a reward, defend reputations publicly and act as a positive force within a customer base. However, as with all stories of good and evil, there are also dark forces at work. Highly toxic customers, who endanger your business and damage your reputation through negative word of mouth recommendations, I call these customers smiling assassins!
But how do we identify smiling assassins and more importantly, what can we do about them? To help you spot assassins, consider an experience where you didn’t receive the level of service you expected or paid for, e.g. at a restaurant or a hotel. Did you complain? Or did you simply smile and say “yes fine” when asked “was everything ok?“, rather than “no it was bloody awful and I’m not coming back because of …!“ If so, you are a smiling assassin, especially if you create negative word of mouth.
The majority of consumers are smiling assassins. They don’t set out to be, often they want to voice an opinion or provide feedback but there is no method for doing this. Others don’t want to engage in a dialogue that could lead to embarrassment or confrontation so they simply smile, say “yes fine” and walk away, forever. Businesses also make it difficult for customers and employees to facilitate feedback. They see complaints as a nuisance or a distraction; if we ignore them they’ll go away one contact centre manager told me recently. This “burying of heads in the sand” approach and the ignorance of real customer insight is extremely dangerous and results in many missed opportunity to improve services for all customers.
The answer to finding and converting assassins is to take the emotion out of the feedback process and to make it simple. Encouraging customers to be critical is free consultancy, but don’t ask them to complete lengthy questionnaires or send them to a website. Be sincere, simple and make the communication work for them. Remember that you are using their time and their thoughts. Capture their issues, concerns and comments, then act upon them. If you can recover the assassin they are highly likely to become an advocate; then rather than tell others how bad you are, they will tell them how you listen, respond and actually care. If you don’t look after your customers, somebody else will, and evil will prevail!
Check out some recent research here from the MoJ that demonstrates just how prevalent this problem is amongst clients of legal firms during the next few days.
As per earlier postings, this initiative is about defining business models that can bring groups of smaller firms together to collaborate in a way that enables them to provide a more competitive legal service. They can then capitalise on the changes being introduced by the Legal Services Act, new technology and the changing expectations of clients.
The project is now well under way, but we still need more lawyer involvement. During July and into early August, Allan Carton has met and will be meeting one-to-one with lawyers who are potential participants in the groups; the aim here is to get a better picture of their current business, their plans and thoughts on this initiative. Also under discussion are innovative approaches to make this work including involvement with other interested organisations that can play a part in turning any proposed structure into reality. There will be a series of half day group discussions and focus groups in Manchester on 10th and 19th August, bringing together the people from legal practices and other areas that could get involved to explore options and issues. What will this really look like, why do it, how does it work, how do we overcome obstacles, tackling compliance, how do we make it happen etc.
In early September there will be a report back to our Manchester partners on the feasibility of making this happen in this area with a plan of action to create the feasible options. The group is already working on 4 versions of the business model, defined by focusing on the needs of the potential clients that each will service. For all participants, an essential benefit of this type of proposition is the variety operational improvements and cost savings that can be achieved as part of a larger, actively co-ordinated group. For some, these may be the only benefits they want, to reduce costs, making a direct impact on bottom line profits. For others, shared marketing and business development capability will be an essential component. This may come just from introduction of clients within the group and effective management of client relationships; or this could extend to more investment in promotional initiatives and joint ventures through the group.
So there are a wide variety of possibilities and different levels of collaboration that will suit different types of firm. Firms with up to 30 people are requested to get involved in the exploration of the options. Bear in mind at this stage that:
- It is intended that the participants in any group will own shares in the group itself – so they will benefit from both the improvement to their own business and of any additional profit the group generates.
- There is no cost whatsoever in getting involved in this initiative as the partners involved are funding this early stage.
- It is envisaged that participating firm will retain theirown identity as a participant in the group.
- Getting involved in the discussion does not commit anyone to take part in any of the groupings that will flow from this initiative.
- Anyone involved will learn from the experience, whether your business decides to get actively involved in a collaborative group established beyond September or not.
- You can limit your time involvement to a one-to-one meeting and attending half day forum on 17th or 19th August in the centre of Manchester.
We are particularly interested in the following types of legal practice, with up to 30 people in total operating within the 10 Local Authorities that make up Greater Manchester:
- Niche” practices specialising in one or more area/s of law, where the focus is exclusively or almost exclusively on specialist area/s of work – whether working for individuals or commercial clients.
- Specialist criminal practices in particular
- Small legal aid practices providing a range of services
Just getting involved in these preliminary meetings on 17th and 19th August will extend your knowledge of some of the more innovative options available to help develop your business, even if you don’t get involved in any of groups that flow from this project beyond September.
Jures, a research company and think-tank dedicated to the legal services market are seeking to gauge the issues that concern small law firms and how confidently they view their future. If you take part in their “Taking the Pulse of the High Street” survey, they are offering respondents a free CPD webinar worth 2 CPD points.
You can take part in the survey here OR if you prefer that a researcher goes through it with you on the telephone, please call Grania Langdon-Down on 01372 469705 - either way, it won’t take more than 5 minutes.
Jures are aiming to get responses from as wide a range of small practices as possible – from practices with 5 partners/members or fewer – from experienced solicitors in different types of practice, specialisms and locations to see what are their main concerns and how confidently they view the future.
To collect your CPD points, please email Grania@jures.co.uk separately when you have completed the online survey.
All responses to the survey will be treated in the strictest confidence. The survey is also available via the Sole Practitioners Group (SPG) and BLD websites.
Taking this a little further: At its simplest on this project, we envisage a management company owned by its participating member firms (could be 10 – not sure what criteria for participation yet to get the right mix or number; may include legal practices and others), managed independently. We don’t quite know yet how to make it work in this environment – to give enough freedom for management and control to participants. We are well aware of many of the challenges though. We anticipate using a variety of outsourced services provided through the management company, but a range of options will be explored extensively with an open mind within this initiative which will involve wide ranging discussions and focus groups involving lawyers and others.
If you are a legal practice with less than 50 people operating within one of the 10 Local Authorities that cover Greater Manchester, are you interested in getting involved?
If you are any other type of business and can envisage how you can profit from making this type of enterprise more competitive, I would be interested to hear your ideas.
A Major North West Initiative
The challenges that lawyers currently face have been created not just by the changes being introduced under the Legal Services Act, but also from the lasting impact of the recession and the continuously changing expectations of clients, who are seen to be increasingly demanding. But then, we all probably expect more for less these days … because it is often possible.
Inpractice UK is just about to launch a research project (working in partnership with Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Manchester Law Society, the North West Regional office of the Law Society and the North West Development Agency), which aims to help small(er) legal practices with up to 50 people operating within the 10 Greater Manchester Local Authority Areas (for starters). It will help lawyers who currently feel that the survival of their business is under threat, want to do something about it and see potential to collaborate with other legal practices as a possible way forwards.
Getting to Grips with the Challenges
The conventional way in which many small firms currently operate, with limited resources and investment that limit innovation cannot be sustained as margins continue to get tighter. Continue reading