The shifts that the legal industry has seen and the consequent decisions that had to be made within the course of days are no strangers to any law firm decision-maker. Learning as you go is never a child’s game, but it can open the doors to opportunities like nothing else can. As firms are marching this journey of innovation, it is crucial that they don’t forget to ruthlessly link back every step they take to the long-standing, fundamental question:
What drives law firm success?
The answer is yet to enjoy a majority vote, but according to 40% of legal industry professionals recently asked in a poll, high quality legal services are leading the way to success. The result is in many ways not surprising, after all the legal service is the core of the offering and the solution to clients’ problems – just like shoes are made for walking.
If firms are to take the achievement of this as a strategic goal, two equally important sides have to be considered: the lawyers’ and the clients’.
What can be done internally to make it as effortless as possible for lawyers to deliver high quality legal services?
According to academia there are four types of intelligence: mechanical, analytical, intuitive and empathetic. Determining what activities fall under which type of intelligence is an effective way firms can see where most of lawyers’ time is spent and which of these tasks are essential to be done by a highly qualified lawyer or how they could do it more productively. Empathetic, intuitive and analytical responsibilities, though undoubtedly, can be made easier, require more active mental engagement from lawyers. Therefore, firms are better off revisiting mechanical intelligence at the bottom of the pyramid first, which is where the simplest and most cost-effective areas of improvement can be identified.
Mechanical intelligence covers everything that is automatically performed and requires little thinking. In a lawyer’s case all administrative tasks would fall here, such as client onboarding, signing documents or sharing information with a colleague to work collaboratively. These can be as simple as they sound but also just as frustrating when there is no straightforward way to do them.
The logic is simple: if it can be done or made simpler by technology, it should be. Experience suggests that it’s not the big inconvenient tasks that distort productivity but the constant small pains. Bear in mind, that just because someone doesn’t call it a pain it doesn’t mean it isn’t one. Once upon a time we lived without electricity, but it’s definitely more convenient living with it.
How can you make customers trust that the quality of services your firm provides are the best they can get?
Reassuring clients of the quality of services is difficult for two reasons. To start with, legal services are high in what’s called credence attributes. Essentially this means that even once the service is received, clients still can’t really judge its quality because they don’t have the knowledge to. The second reason is that law is complex for anyone not in it, meaning that the non-easing perceived risks in any legal proceeding make it difficult for the average person to fully trust their lawyer. Clients feel out of control because they can’t possibly catch a mistake as it’s happening.
While the nature of law cannot be changed, the cues around it can be. Despite all clients seeking high quality legal advice they are likely to make their decision based on factors that are unrelated to the value of the final output but in psychological terms they link together. There is no questioning of the classic social proof effect achieved by case studies or testimonials, but one of the 21st century’s winning tactics is transparency.
Transparency is powerful because it gives people the sense that they are in control even when they are not. Knowing how a case is progressing gives clients a sense of understanding though they are not a single step closer to understanding law. For a service where the final output is hard to judge, the experience in the process will determine the overall quality in the eyes of a client. Technology here too offers an immense number of alternatives as to how transparency can be achieved, say through a digital information sharing platform or a communication tool.
It’s clear that a single recipe cannot be written because each and every law firm will have different approaches, existing technologies and number of lawyers. However, one thing does remain constant for all, which is that any strategic objective must link to both how lawyers work and how clients experience law.