Client-centricity in the legal profession: challenges and opportunities
Patrick Bignon and Richard King of consultancy Bignon De Keyser consider how legal businesses and lawyers can be more client-centric
Bignon De Keyser consultants Patrick Bignon (PB, based in Paris) and Richard King (RK, based in London) reflect on the importance of client-centricity, why it’s a challenge (and an opportunity) in the legal profession and offer some thoughts on ways to address this.
How do you define client-centricity?
PB: Businesses talk about putting the client first and use the famous phrase ‘the customer is king’. This is true, but it is more demanding than that. Do you really understand what your client wants from you? What are the client’s business imperatives? Do you understand the commercial issues they face in their sector and their market at the moment? This takes an investment of time, expertise and experience, but the client wants advice that works for them and their business, not generic or bland guidance that isn’t differentiated.
RK: Client-centricity is really thinking about your how your business is organised, and how you manage service delivery, from the client’s perspective. Thinking about what is best for the client, not you and your business. And whenyou stand in your client’s shoes, you’re trying to think about their whole experience of working with you, not just the legal advice or technical analysis. Is your business easy to deal with? What is the client’s experience of your people? Is the whole of your brand something with which the client can align themselves?
Why is client-centricity so important?
PB: Word of mouth is a very important way in which legal professionals win business. You can enhance your brand significantly in the market if your clients pass on to others their praise for your quality of service and the care you show for them. Clients expect lawyers to know the law; you can really differentiate yourself if your reputation in the market is that your service, responsiveness and commerciality are exceptional.
RK: Client attrition costs legal businesses money and it is a lot harder, and more expensive, to win new clients than win more business from your existing clients. It is good business sense and good economics to focus on the relationship with existing clients to deepen and broaden that. There is good evidence that client-centric businesses are more profitable as a result.
What obstructs client-centricity in legal businesses?
PB: Professional service firms can create performance measures for their people that value revenue and billable hours over everything else. It’s not surprising then that lawyers don’t invest time in the client relationship: if all that matters is the next transaction, then the lawyers will stay focused on selling more ‘products’ or time and won’t prioritise how they can support their existing clients better.
RK: Any business as it evolves develops ways of working that are set up at its own convenience, for reasons of cost, risk management or efficiency. This is quite natural but some of these procedures are not client-friendly and in fact put clients off. You need constantly to re-examine whether the business processes you put in place help your client relationships or hinder them. How do you make the client journey with your business simpler and easier?
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Are there simple remedies to make client-centricity central to a professional firm?
PB: Organisations that make a commitment to client-centricity from the top, and get their leaders to speak about it and be involved closely in initiatives, will make progress. Only if people see the partners and leadership ‘walking the talk’ will you see a change in behaviour.
RK: There aren’t simple remedies. This does have to be a ‘whole organisation’ or cultural change. Patrick mentioned the need to re-examine metrics. The way partners approach business development has to shift from prioritising sales to building relationships. And you will probably need to change some of your business processes. None of these are quick fixes.
What suggestion do you have to help a legal business improve its client-centricity?
PB: Understanding the gap between the client’s expectations and their perceptions of actual experience is critical. You can’t do this unless someone owns the client relationship and is accountable for managing it. A client relationship partner normally does this: but is it clear which person that is, what their role is and how they will be evaluated when performing that role?
RK: Most businesses struggle to coordinate and integrate their data about their clients. It exists in different systems; different departments don’t share information about the clients with which they’ve worked. You need to organise this data so you can build a complete picture of the client’s needs and issues and then share this information appropriately.
What suggestion do you have to help individual lawyers improve their own client-centricity?
PB: The more lawyers invest in learning about client industries and sectors, the better they will understand their clients’ businesses and the more natural it will be to tailor advice to meet their needs. Invite clients to come and speak to your firm and your teams about their business, their challenges in the market and their expectations of you as lawyers. In my experience, this is always a win-win.
RK: I have seen great benefits from lawyers conducting regular relationship reviews with their clients, and routinely meeting clients after matters have concluded, to identify strengths and areas for improvement. Apart from the lawyers learning a great deal about what clients like and dislike, clients like to be asked to do this and the actual meeting itself often serves to strengthen the relationship.
Patrick Bignon is a founding partner of Bignon de Keyser, a business consultancy focused on the legal industry, and Richard King is a partner and consultant at the firm who was previously chief legal operations officer at Herbert Smith Freehills