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Report: Law firms fail at collecting client satisfaction feedback

November 28, 2018

The legal industry is all about client service. Lawyers know this, which is why they work long hours, often late into the night, ensuring each filing, motion or work product will be optimally effective for their client.

All of this work is seemingly done to ensure clients are likely to return to the lawyer for assistance in the future or to recommend that lawyer to their family and friends. But according to a new report from law practice management group Clio, attorneys often miss the final crucial step in ensuring their clients are happy with their legal services: asking if they’re satisfied.

According to Clio’s 2018 Legal Trends Report, only 4 percent of the nearly 2,000 lawyers surveyed regularly collect formal client feedback in the form of surveys, interviews, etc. Instead, 37 percent said gathering client feedback is not a regular part of their practice, while 42 percent said they ask about client satisfaction only casually or informally.

Different reasons can explain the failure among lawyers to ask clients if they’re happy with the service they’ve received, but Clio and other legal marketing experts say this failure can undermine a lawyer’s business development efforts. But if attorneys make an effort to formally measure client satisfaction, rather than casually asking if a client is pleased, experts say attorneys could open the door to new business development opportunities.

Getting referrals

psiharis-george-mug Psiharis

Studies have shown that even in the age of the internet, referrals are still the most common way people find an attorney, Clio chief operating officer George Psiharis said. Multiple factors can influence how likely a client is to recommend their attorney to another potential client, with the Legal Trends Report showing that costs, ease of understanding and a lawyer’s “bedside manner” and responsiveness are most important.

More generally, Clio’s report shows that people with legal problems are likelier to be satisfied with the resolution of their problems if they hired a lawyer than if they didn’t, with 85 percent of people surveyed saying they were satisfied if they hired a lawyer versus 76 percent who were satisfied without a lawyer. Conversely, 24 percent of people who didn’t hire a lawyer were dissatisfied with the resolution of their legal issue, compared to 14 percent of people who hired a lawyer and were still dissatisfied.

With these numbers in mind, Clio honed in on a central question: does client satisfaction mean a client will refer their friends and family to the lawyer who helped them? Answering that question requires attorneys to find a method of formally surveying clients who have been served, Psiharis said.

Asking the question

There are several ways an attorney or firm can collect formal client feedback, including issuing surveys, conducting interviews or scheduling phone calls. At Lewis Wagner LLP, the firm’s transportation practice group is currently in the process of conducting in-person and phone interviews with a core group of six to seven clients.

Under the guidance of an outside marketing group, Robert Foos, chair of the transportation group, said clients are being asked to opine on what the firm does well and what it can improve upon. The lawyers are looking for feedback on issues such as attorney responsiveness, availability, knowledge, etc., Foos said.

meszaros-erin-mug Meszaros

Similarly, Erin Meszaros, chief business development and client service officer of Eversheds Sutherland LLP in Atlanta and co-chair of the Legal Marketing Association’s Professional Advocacy Working Group, said her firm has a four-pronged approach to gauging client satisfaction: in-person interviews, phone interviews, electronic surveys and mid-matter/end-of-matter surveys. During the process of collecting client feedback, Meszaros said she and the firm’s managing partner will conduct the interviews/surveys without the attorney present, which generally makes clients feel freer to share their thoughts.

The Legal Trends Report offers an additional method for gauging client satisfaction based on a scale of 1 to 10. Known as the net promoter score, or NPS, the first step in calculating this satisfaction measurement is to determine how likely clients are to recommend a firm or attorney’s service using the 1-10 scale.

From there, attorneys must determine what percentage of their clients are promoters, passives and detractors — promoters are those who answered with a score of 9 or 10, passives answered with a 7 or 8, and detractors answered with a 1-6. Then, by subtracting the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters, a firm/attorney will know their NPS.

Meszaros said she ends every client interview by asking them how likely they are to recommend her firm on a scale of 1-10, then uses client answers to determine the firm’s NPS and identify areas where the firm can improve.

satisfaction-pie“It’s really great, because if they rank you as a 7 or 8, we’re able to say, ‘Tell us how we can improve that — what would make you give us a 9 or 10?’” she said.

The good and the bad

Psiharis agrees with Meszaros that utilizing the NPS — or any client satisfaction measure — is an effective way to determine how a firm can improve, which is why he was surprised to find that so few attorneys formally collect client feedback. Meszaros surmised that attorneys who use third parties to interview clients may be afraid of not knowing what will happen during the interviews. Additionally, she said attorneys may be concerned that if they receive negative feedback, it will not be kept confidential.

But at Lewis Wagner, Foos said his practice group is genuinely interested in learning what they could be doing better. If clients are unsatisfied with an aspect of the firm’s service, Foos said the firm wants to know about that. And on the flipside, the firm plans to use its positive feedback to create new marketing strategies.

“We’re looking for some buzzwords like ‘responsiveness,’ ‘readiness,’ ‘availability,’ ‘knowledge,’” Foos said.

Psiharis and Meszaros agreed that in a service-based industry, attorneys should be willing to hear both the good and the bad about their work to make their practices more attractive.

“The voice of the client is really the focal point,” Meszaros said.•

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