No News Is Not Good News: Why Law Firms Need To Start Asking For Client Feedback

May 29, 2014

Attorney communicationLaw firm managing partners and executive directors say finding new business from existing clients is one of their top priorities, right up with increasing profit per partner.

But how do you cross-sell to a client that is not a client anymore?

Put another way, you cannot cross-sell to a client who fires you.

Now, if you are doing everything right, you do not have to worry too much about being released as counsel. But how do you know that you are doing everything right?

Effectively gathering feedback from your client is crucial, but perhaps not as crucial as actually responding to that feedback.  What is unusual is that many law firms do not seem to consistently do either. In a survey taken at the American Association of Legal Administrators’ annual conference in Toronto earlier this month, most firms said they believe they provide excellent service – and yet, a full 61 percent said they do not ask for client feedback. Only 20 percent said they solicit client “feedback on a regular basis.

Market research tells us that two of the top reasons law firms are not retained are “communication/personality issues” and “lack of responsiveness.”   Both of these can be addressed through an effective feedback program. If you are still not convinced, consider this; the general counsel of IBM provided a list of items that will land an attorney on his “Do Not Hire” list. Among the items: Being a lawyer who “hadn’t spent a minute trying to understand his client.”

If you are one of those firms that does not actively solicit client feedback and want to start, a good first step might be to review The American Bar Association’s Essential Value of Client Feedback. It provides guidance from the perspective of a general counsel, a law firm and a consultant, such as:

“Whether you are working with new or established clients, client feedback is critical to identifying what each client actually values. With that knowledge, you can provide the kind of service that will set you apart from the crowd of willing and capable attorneys also eager to prove their worth.”

Many firms have also experienced success with a client advisory board, client feedback surveys and other means of consistent, formalized and standardized efforts to create and maintain open channels of communication with clients.

If you are not talking and listening to your clients, you may miss the signs that your relationship is in trouble.  An article I was reading the other day talked about one company’s decision to fire its counsel with “no chance to protest, argue, defend or negotiate … [M]anaging partners, relationship partners, business team heads and practice group leaders should never assume that no news is good news.”  The firm in this article was let go.

Avoiding the fate of that firm cannot be performed in a single action. It is a journey composed of small, consistent steps. Starting that journey today would be a good, proactive step toward ensuring your firm’s future vitality.