LPM Tiger Team with Access Legal: Creating a more client-centric law firm

A set of legal industry experts assemble to pinpoint issues that block firms from creating the customer-for-life – exploring themes of culture, customer experience and data.

Aftab Bose, Editor|LPM magazine|

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Arguments abound as to why law firms should rebuild around clients – themes of competitive advantage, resilience and purpose are doing the rounds across the legal sector. Perhaps the more puzzling question relates to how businesses that have long been geared towards billing their clients for as much as possible can suddenly pivot towards a service-focused mindset. And, assuming firms are willing to put their clients first, how does an industry built on paper files bring itself to make the most of client-focused data and technology tools?

These are some issues that a team of legal leaders – and one legal tech expert – gathered to address in a high-intensity, problem-solving sprint in the inaugural LPM Tiger Team.

Driving cultural change

One perennial pain-point – agreed on by all tigers – is that law firms simply aren’t wired to understand their clients at a human level. The transactional approach taken by fee earners – coupled with the fact that they often have to deliver bad news – can lead to alienation.

Jaqueline Watts, director of commercial law at A City Law Firm, explained how the firm has set up an independent client-management department – where the definition of success is a happy client, not a lucrative one. And to help that mindset prevail, “quality time” with the client-management team is embedded in training and onboarding programmes for all employees.

There are other solutions too. CEO of Ashtons Legal, Edward O’Rourke, highlighted his firm’s use of client feedback on third-party websites as a performance-evaluation metric for fee earners – keeping them in touch with what clients really want.

But it’s not just fee earners that need to change their mindset. MAPD group COO Joanna Kingston-Davies put forth the idea of a “stable table” approach to legal practice management. People, clients, quality and profit make up four legs of this figurative table – and each must be equally sturdy for robust growth.

The technology-culture paradox

So, cultural change is key, and legal tech is one tool that can play a central role here – vast pools of data collected, stored and analysed in seconds can give fee earners an actionable picture of what their clients need. Paradoxically, a mindset shift also appears to be a precursor to making the most of technology.

For one, entering data into digital tools needs a meticulous hand that understands the importance of rigour. And at the far end of the process, a certain amount of prowess is needed to understand the output.

“You can find any story you want to in data, so it’s important to be focused on the right things,” noted Kingston-Davies. Even legal tech experts agree – head of product at Access Legal Lauren Colbeck explained how “it isn’t just about technology – it’s about knowing exactly what you want to achieve with your data.” Tech is best cast in a supporting role, added Colbeck, “working in the background to prepare and surface information from disparate systems, as and when you need it.”

As far as O’Rourke is concerned, this supporting role is probably for the best. “Most technology out there comes in one-size-fits-all packages, while legal work is about personalising service for individuals,” he said. Tech is an essential helping hand, but not an alternative to hands-on service delivery.

Waving a magic wand

“If you could solve one element of everything discussed so far with one swish – what would it be?” Posed this question, the tigers got down to the brass tacks of what the legal sector needs above all else – from Watts’ idea of running focus groups with clients about their experiences, to O’Rourke’s desire to withhold profit metrics from fee earners and keep them focused on experience. Kingston-Davies feels that the legal sector needs to look at other customer-facing industries – such as retail, hospitality and others – for inspiration on how to deliver satisfaction.

And, as for Lauren Colbeck at Access Legal, she wishes for all law firms to have a clear idea of their objectives – and to keep all their data up to date – so that legal tech providers have a clear idea of what they need to deliver to play their own part in prioritising the client experience.

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