September 16, 2022 – In a presentation to a potential client, it’s common to see the General Counsel asking attorneys to provide information on three topics: the approach to the case, the proposed budget, and the unique value that the firm could bring. Requests for “value” information are becoming more frequent, with most tenders specifically asking for value in addition to the price.
The value also appears in the dashboards of external lawyers. Clients – and their legal operations teams – are asking companies about the value of relational meetings. And customers tell companies in surveys and interviews that value can make or break a hiring decision. This trend is industry-wide, according to the Wicker Park Group, which supports law firm feedback programs. In 2020, 94% of clients surveyed by Wicker Park mentioned the concept of added value as a determining factor in the selection of external lawyers. This is a 20% increase over the previous year.
With clients so value driven, how can firms and lawyers do a better job of adding value to the client relationship? There is an easy but often overlooked answer: engage business professionals in your company’s administrative departments.
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Many law firms are familiar with the added value of table stakes like CLE training and thought leadership. Some law firms are successful in adding value by providing their clients with proactive business advice, leveraging their extensive experience in an industry to advise a client on what they may not know.
But few companies actively think about how the professionals who support business operations can also help customers by meeting directly with customers, listening to their needs, and partnering with them to develop solutions.
Legal operations teams can help grow the firm’s business by focusing on client value. Here are five areas where companies should engage their administrative teams to support customer relationships.
1. Experiments and technology: In consumer-driven markets, companies have started to focus on customer experience. There are important data underlying this decision.
According to PwC, 73% of customers say experience is an important factor in their purchasing decisions, ranking behind price and product quality. PwC also found that customers are willing to pay more for good experiences, with 43% willing to pay more for convenience and 42% willing to pay more for a friendly and welcoming experience.
While the B2C market has been all about experiences, the legal industry is just starting to catch up. Some firms have made customer service a mandate of the marketing and business development department, but other firms have formed teams dedicated solely to customer service. These teams, including the authors firm’s client experience department, manage the firms’ client feedback programs and drill down into client needs to develop solutions.
Companies that dedicate resources solely to customer service and value have many advantages: customers are more candid in their feedback when talking to a neutral third party, and customer service professionals have a broad cross-disciplinary background that leads to more creative solutions.
The same goes for dedicated innovation teams that focus on using technology to deliver legal services more effectively and efficiently. These teams need to be separated from IT so that customer-facing projects aren’t put on the back burner during the next IT crisis.
2. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI): Almost every law firm has DEI-focused administrative team members, from diversity directors to managers and coordinators. These professionals are often responsible for a company’s internal DEI efforts, including training and programming, as well as reporting customer-requested demographic information or benchmarking efforts, such as Mansfield Certification.
However, fewer companies are leveraging these DEI professionals to engage directly with customers – but there is great value in doing so. Legal departments face many of the same challenges as law firms when it comes to recruiting and retaining diverse talent, but internal teams often lack dedicated DEI resources to help launch new initiatives or to implement policies and procedures.
The authors found that many customers are keenly interested in DEI, but don’t know where to start. Law firms’ internal DEI teams can act as a sounding board, provide advice on what works and what doesn’t, share insights from across the industry, and connect clients with other clients to get help.
3. Pro bono: Like DEI, many companies have administrative teams that manage the company’s pro bono efforts. But the value of these team members goes beyond helping a firm’s lawyers meet the demands of the bar.
Law firm pro bono teams are a wealth of information when it comes to finding pro bono opportunities that help diverse underserved communities. By involving your company’s pro bono team in conversations with clients, pro bono professionals can suggest projects and programs that meet a client’s unique interests and meet the internal team’s pro bono requirements.
As an example, a longtime client told attorneys for the authors’ firm that he wanted to partner with the firm on pro bono projects that advanced the company’s DEI goals. The pro bono team worked directly with the client to initiate a name change project in support of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. As part of this project, in-house team members work with outside attorneys to provide pro bono legal name change services to low-income, gender non-conforming, non-binary trans people.
4. Pricing: If you’re submitting a response to an RFP or a pitch to a client, chances are you’ve involved your law firm’s pricing team. This team has probably worked out the numbers and helped you develop the appropriate hourly rate or other fee arrangement for the matter. But have you ever considered including members of the pricing team in the conversation with the customer about fees?
Connecting your pricing team directly with the customer helps provide more context on a pricing proposal and the reasons behind it, including company-wide data on similar issues. The pricing team can also help uncover a client’s true pricing needs.
Lawyers often assume that clients simply want a discount or are looking for the lowest possible price. While this is sometimes true, clients are often more interested in predictability and certainty of fees, as staying within budget can be more important than the budget itself. Your pricing professionals can help you learn more about these customer motivators so you can design a pricing structure that truly meets their needs.
5. Internal operations: According to the Wicker Park Group, customers want their outside companies to provide more proactive advice – to leverage their insights across all customers to suggest topics or issues the customer should pay attention to. This has often happened in client feedback, and internal teams are proactively asking firms, through the outside attorney dashboard process, to suggest improvements to the attorney-client relationship.
This is another area where the professionals in your business can add value, given their extensive experience working with many different types of clients. Your marketing team can provide best practices for issuing and evaluating tenders, including information on how certain tendering software works. Your library and competitive intelligence teams can share information on the best research tools to monitor competitors and pending legislation. Your IT department can help customers evaluate different document management systems and choose the one that best meets their needs. The possibilities are limitless.
With rising inflation and rising fees for outside attorneys, smart law firms know they will need to focus on creating value to retain clients and grow their business. The smartest companies, however, will be those that look beyond CLEs and training to engage their professionals in uniquely adding value to meet customer needs.
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The opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which is committed to integrity, independence and non-partisanship by principles of trust. Westlaw Today is owned by Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.