I am fortunate to be at the Legal Marketing Association Conference in Atlanta again this year and just attended the 2019 edition of the 'Next Big Thing.' A yearly initiative run by the LMA to highlight and decipher a key area of interest for the coming year. In previous years they have covered things such as AI in Law, but this year it was brought back to basics (by this year’s creators, Brenda Plowman, CMO of Fasken and LMA Board Member, and Deborah McMurray, panel chair and CEO of Content Pilot)  with their theme: Driving Performance Improvement through "Service Metamorphosis." 

The three excellent case studies from Terra Liddell (CMO, Finnegan), Doug Tumminello (Partner, Lewis Roca) and Melanie Greene (CMO, Faegre BD) distilled down why this is important and what it actually means for the modern law firm to really put your client first. 

Changing client service from a lip-service only concept to an active driver of improved lawyer and firm performance was the key takeaway for all attendees. Moreover, Deborah McMurray stressed that this is something which scales to all law firms regardless of size. 

So, what is service metamorphosis? Well, Deborah simply stated that clients want law firms to commit to demonstrable & measurable improvement. Doug supplemented this by stating that having the "best offering & talent is no longer enough: client experience is the new battlefield." 

Deborah used the analogy of a butterfly coming to life as a way of assessing your business and acting accordingly. 

  1. Egg: lay the groundwork for better client/lawyer relationships.
  2. Caterpillar: grow in confidence, become more capable. 
  3. Chrysalis: getting there!
  4. Butterfly: flourish & consolidate position.

Continuous improvement doesn’t just happen. There has to be an underlying goal with a process and the resources to support it. The three panellists laid out their vision of improving client service. Here are my three takeaways:

#1 Be proactive 

Client-service and 'servicing your clients’ are truisms in law firms but clients want law firms that are committed to helping them. This isn’t rocket science, according to Deborah: Ask your clients what they want and make the effort to understand their way of doing business with them. Moreover, develop deeper, stronger relationships with your clients by asking them first, before they ask you. 

Equally, using anonymous surveys, tools like the Net Promoter Score, as well as encouraging your client-facing team to ask the honest questions: "How do you want to work with us?" changes the whole client-lawyers relationship. 

#2 Give your business development focus + strategy: 

Terra Liddell kicked things off by saying, "We want to provide our attorneys with everything they need to sit down and develop relationships with their clients" as the ultimate goal is to drive more business and differentiate ourselves. 

A uniform client services strategy is key too. At Passle, we talk about distributed leadership on a regular basis and this. There is a centralised idea but the teams and divisions are given the freedom to experiment and act with their key accounts in the appropriate manner. 

For this to happen, your team has to realise the value for them of doing this online. 

The numbers back all of this up: Doug went as far as saying that in 2019 having the "best offering & talent is no longer enough: client experience is the new battlefield." He then backed this up with statistics citing that firms with a real client focus experienced 37% higher rev growth, client retention increases up 33.1% and profits per partner up 48%. In short, it pays to be more focused. 

#3 Meaningful change starts internally

As I cited in a previous post, sometimes the biggest impediment to change is internal (e.g the Partnership structure). 

Melanie Greene's talk was brilliant as she espoused how they reassessed their own internal processes, perceptions and knowledge sharing to change the way they add value to clients. Again, they have a distributed leadership function where Partners coordinate with their Account managers to work out what is most relevant on a case-by-case basis, but this is all done in a coordinated fashion. One notable example was that they did away with the traditional 'BD Manager' role and instead now have Client Account Managers and Marketing Project Managers instead - this division and specialisation of roles enables them to better deal with specific client issues and to streamline the process internally. Moreover, she said the role of marketing is to facilitate these more meaningful connections by the fee-earners, not as an internal agony aunt when the Partner doesn't know where else to go. They even created an internal portal called the Marketing Request Center to help manage and coordinate all marketing efforts! She reported that not only are their clients reaping the rewards, but internally job satisfaction is higher than ever before