Facing stiffer competition than ever before, and operating against a backdrop of continued economic uncertainty, today’s law firms are quickly realising if they want to maintain their place in the market, they need to not only meet, but exceed client expectations. The question is, what do clients look for in a law firm? And why are the top performers in the industry increasingly turning to legal technology to boost their client experience?
How are law firms measuring up?
The hard truth is a lot of firms continue to fall short when it comes to client service. Reading the headlines from the 2021 Wolters Kluwer Future Ready Lawyer Survey, it’s clear there’s still a way to go to close the gap between client expectations and the level of service law firms offer.
When asked to rate their legal advisors in five top-priority areas, fewer than one-third of law firms were considered to be fulfilling them ‘very well’. And this undoubtedly contributed to only 30% of legal departments admitting being very satisfied with their relationship with their legal advisors. And in a further blow to law firms, 24% of clients raised their hand and revealed switching law firms was on the cards for them (a rise from 13% in 2020). So, not only is there a prevailing sense of underwhelm from clients when it comes to their legal advisors, legal departments also seem more prepared to change law firms if they do not get the service they expect.
What do clients look for in a law firm?
When evaluating what clients want from their law firm, there are four factors that commonly crop up:
- Bespoke, added-value service
- Efficiency and cost effectiveness
- High quality communication
- Better use of technology
So, what can law firms do better? Let’s look at each of these areas individually.
1. Bespoke, added-value service
Ultimately, clients want to feel they’re receiving not just value for money – but added value – from their advisers. An underlying theme of the Thomson Reuters 2022 State of the UK Legal Market report was the expectation that law firms should serve their clients’ holistic needs, not just transactional legal requirements. This was emphasised particularly by ‘commerciality and a deep understanding of clients’ businesses’ ranking as the top way for law firms to win a client’s favour. This is pushing law firms to think more and more about what commercial value they can provide outside of transactional work.
Time has always been a restriction on law firms when it comes to the practicalities of providing added value services. But technology is increasingly making this reason less justifiable. Clients are fully aware low-value, repetitive tasks can now be automated. As a result, they expect their law firms to be investing in legal technology to take over the routine, minutiae of legal work, so their advisors can instead focus time on delivering added value advice. To put this in a Clarilis context, clients don’t want their lawyers spending unnecessary time on a first draft of a document, when they could be talking them through the commercial reasoning driving a novel legal opinion.
2. Efficiency and cost-effectiveness
Clients are certainly demanding faster turnaround times, so they can react quickly to tighter internal deadlines and increase their deal velocity. At the same time, there’s ever-growing pressure to control costs and increase profitability. This is evident from the continuing trend to move away from hourly billing and towards fixed or capped pricing. Based on this, it’s little surprise the 2021 Wolters Kluwer survey concluded the top motive causing corporate clients to fire a firm was failing to demonstrate efficiency and productivity. In addition, 78% of legal clients said efficiency and productivity are important to them.
Technology has an important role to play in boosting efficiency. In fact, 50% of law firms responding to HSBC’s ‘Law firm strategy and investment survey’ said investing in systems that help with ‘doing legal work quicker or more efficiently’ is a priority. As a legal technology vendor, at Clarilis we talk a lot about efficiency. We have a whole library of evidence now to show how automated drafting significantly increases lawyer productivity. Yet the Wolters Kluwer research suggests the client perception is most law firms are still not using the tools available to them as extensively or effectively as they could be. While 76% of legal clients say using technology to drive efficiency and productivity is important to them, only 28% describe their current law firm as doing it very well.
3. High frequency, high quality communication
According to Mike Francies, London managing partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, clients expect their law firm to communicate regularly and to be transparent. “Different clients value different things but they all value transparency, responsiveness and market experience,” he said in a Q&A for Legal Business.
Frequent communication and regular progress updates are a vital part of client service. There are a variety of ways law firms are using technology to enable this. Of course, there are the digital communications platforms themselves – Teams, Zoom, Slack and the like – but the pacesetting firms are the ones using legal technology to create more time for communicating. For example, Clarilis reduces the time it takes to create entire suites of complex documents by up to 90% on the first draft, and 100% on ancillaries. Our clients can take the extra time they gain from our automations and use it to engage better with their clients.
4. Better use of technology
The need to strengthen the technology capability of law firms is a prominent theme across many sources of legal market research. In HSBC’s 2021 Law Firm Strategy and Investment Survey, 58% of firms stated pressure to keep up with ‘peers with more tech-driven business models’ was the biggest challenge to law firm strategy today. ‘Investment in client-facing technology and/or interfaces with firm data/documents’ also topped a list of organisational challenges law firms listed in this report, with 56% of firms rating this concern the highest.
The 2021 Wolters Kluwer report further hammers home the need for more investment in technology from law firms. In this area, the statistics say it all:
- 82% of legal departments said it’s important the firms they work with fully leverage technology.
- 91% said they have already or plan to quiz their law firms on the technology they use to be more productive and efficient.
- 78% say using technology to deliver the best possible service is important to them (up from 71% in 2020).
- Only 30% feel their law firm is using technology ‘very well’ to deliver a better client experience.
- 91% plan to ask their law firms about their technology use in the coming years. This is a 10-point rise from 2020.
It’s clear technology has a significant impact on how clients evaluate and select their legal advisors. Paying lip service to innovation is no longer enough.
Conclusion: It’s a matter of time (and tech)
There’s a lot of talk about changes in what clients expect from their legal advisers. But has anything really changed? Efficiency, more value, better communication – nothing new there. But what is different is the expectation that law firms should be using technology more effectively to free up more time for adding value to clients.
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