Consumer expectations have changed, no matter what industry you’re in.
Legal clients expect convenience, faster response times, and timely, meaningful communication, and law firms who commit to providing amazing client experiences will enjoy more referrals and increased revenues—and more positive interactions with their clients.
Greg McLawsen of Sound Immigration and Joshua Kubicki of Bold Duck Studio shared their expertise on all things client-experience related with us—from common misconceptions about the client experience in the legal industry, to advice for improving the client experience at larger firms.
Greg is the leader of a successful, Seattle-based immigration law firm, and Joshua has previously worked as head of strategy at Seyfarth Shaw, so you’ll definitely want to hear their thoughts.
Matters: A podcast from Clio
Why the Client Experience Matters
Intro: Everyday that we wake up as to our practicing law, the question that stays in my mind is how do we make this better? I mean, the world has changed. The legal environment is nothing like who we were 10 years ago or 5 and it seems like it changes by the month, sometimes, it seems like it changes daily.
Andrew Booth: I’m Andrew Booth.
Teresa Matich: And I’m Teresa Matich and this is ‘Matters.’ ‘Matters’ is a podcast presented by Clio, the world’s leading cloud-based legal practice management software.
Andrew Booth: ‘Matters’ offers rich, 30-minute episodes based on carefully curated topics. With ideas from industry experts and examples from successful practicing legal professionals we promise that taking these 30 minutes to listen in will be well worth your time.
Teresa Matich: In our first episode, we’ll be talking about the client experience and why it matters.
Andrew Booth: The client experience, a relatively intuitive concept but also an ephemeral idea. For businesses that master it, there’s a big reward. Global powerhouse brands like Starbucks, Amazon and Apple have reached a combined market cap of $1.7 trillion because of it. Amazon alone has reached a market cap of over $900 billion. It’s top leadership principle, customer obsession.
The client experience refers to the sum of interactions any business has with a given client. We’re all experiencing things all the time. So why does our experience as a client matter so much? More importantly, why should you, as a legal professional, care about it?
The answer is that consumer expectations have changed, no matter what industry you are in and law firms that recognize this and act on it, stand to benefit massively.
Today, we are going to be talking about how the client experience plays out in the legal space, including how law firms can pay extra attention to the client experience to gain a competitive edge.
Teresa Matich: First, here’s Greg McLawsen.
Greg McLawsen: So we are Sound Immigration. We are America’s online immigration law firm. We are eight attorneys and the issue of where we are, I guess, is somewhat up to debate and/or variable. Our attorneys are based out of eight different offices and we deliver services primarily online. So for me, I’ll be in Italy next week and will be delivering services from the Amalfi Coast.
Teresa Matich: Running a practice that lets him travel doesn’t mean that Greg neglects his clients. Quite the contrary, Greg is a strong believer in the power of the client experience and he’s constantly thinking about it both in terms of his practice and in terms of his everyday life. Such is the case with a recent purchase of travel pants.
Greg McLawsen: So I’m leaving tomorrow to Italy and I wanted a new pair of travel pants, right? So in less than ten minutes I surveyed 100 different types, skimmed a bunch of reviews and had a pair of what looked to be probably the best available travel pants. They are now waiting for me at home.
Teresa Matich: That’s a pretty seamless, effortless experience, and in Greg’s opinion it’s a baseline for what consumers expect from everything nowadays and that’s been the expectation for a long time; a simple, painless, intuitive experience that gets you what you need fast.
But, according to Greg, many law firms have missed the memo on client experience. They focus on delivering legal services, but they don’t focus on other key parts of the experience like client interactions, access to information, or how their clients feel, because in the past they haven’t really had to.
Greg McLawsen: If you have a monopoly on doing wills and trusts or doing immigration forms, you don’t have to be as sensitive to the consumer’s experience as you do once alternative options start filling up the space and all of a sudden, you’re not the only game in town.
Andrew Booth: The problem is, those alternative options are starting to fill up the space which means that there isn’t a monopoly anymore. Greg is seeing it firsthand.
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, I mean, it’s been fully 35 minutes since I was corresponding with somebody who runs a company who’s basically trying to push into the space that I’m occupying right now, and basically, automate the experience that I’m delivering to clients, which I think is healthy for the industry.
Andrew Booth: The prospect of a new player coming to the market and automating your entire business might seem scary, but for Greg, it’s far from that. He believes it’s healthy for the industry. Why? Because he believes he has something to offer that AI can’t.
Greg McLawsen: We understand as a firm that we can do a really slick job with things like getting information from our clients in questionnaires, but we’re never going to be as slick as the guys who do that as their main job, and so we really emphasize the value-add of the counseling aspect. And this goes back to consumer interviews I did years ago that made me realize that a major reason that clients come to us, even if they don’t always articulate it that way, isn’t just to get the thing filed properly or to get advised about their legal options.
It’s so that six months down the line when they’re worried about their future, they don’t know if they’re going to get naturalized, they don’t know if they’re going to be able to stay in the States with their family, they want to be able to call somebody up and be told and have this be true that everything is going to be all right.
And so we understand that one of our primary value-adds to clients is to be authentically their companion and counselor during the process. And I think a lot of attorneys will also say that, but we understand that is one of the core value-adds at the firm, not just delivering the particular legal deliverable.
Andrew Booth: Companionship, counseling, and peace of mind, all things you can offer as an attorney, all things that go beyond the scope of just delivering legal services. This isn’t without significance. The 2018 Legal Trends report, issued by Clio, found that three of the top four reasons people had hired an attorney within the past two years had nothing to do with cost and everything to do with perception.
Greg sees the counseling aspect of his services as part of his business offering which means he pays attention to it and invests in it just like he would any other business initiative.
Greg McLawsen: So like features that help us deliver that, just for example, would be to make our attorneys as accessible as possible in the process. So, for example, clients can immediately self-schedule interviews with their attorneys anytime they want during the process. There’s no cost for that. They can just go to our website, select their attorney and schedule a 15-minute help, I’m freaking out interview. You know, and we have strict policies about responding to clients so that we’re institutionally emphasizing getting that attorney to the client as fast as possible when they are having that moment of darkness in their case.
Teresa Matich: The result here is that Greg’s clients have peace of mind and a positive client experience, and both of those are key for Greg’s business. Plenty of studies have found that customers are more likely to share a poor customer experience than they are to share a positive one. So paying attention to all aspects of the client experience is just one way to build a strong reputation, and it may even result in some referrals for your firm down the line.
Another way Greg invests in the client experience, by thinking about how the software he uses affects his clients. Technology is key to the client experience. For example, when Greg can’t find a solution that works for both him and his clients he holds out, sometimes for years.
Greg McLawsen: So we work in the immigration space which is all of our cases are going to involve at some point of the process spitting out 20 to 60-plus pages of forms. So, a major pain point for the attorneys working on cases, and also for the clients, is how do they give us the information that we need to produce those forms and then get that information into the government-issued forms? So that’s potentially an obnoxious experience for clients and for the attorneys who do it.
There have long been a number of applications out there specifically in the immigration space that do this. What they didn’t do well was the client facing form that gets the information from the client. So eight years ago, six years ago, we could have adopted one of these platforms and gained efficiency at the firm. We would have saved attorney and support time by using one of these programs, but it sucked from the client perspective.
So, for example, one of the software platforms by design would have had me send one version of questionnaires to the client and then always required me to follow up with a second round of questionnaires.
I just know how I would experience that. It would piss me off, because it’s like I just set aside an evening to do this homework for you and now I’m getting a second round of homework. Why wasn’t this all there to begin with?
So, fast-forward now, we only adopted a form software when we found one that we thought did it deliver an excellent client experience from our client’s standpoint? Great that it’s also efficient, but the touchstone for that decision was is it going to improve the client experience and not just save us time?
Teresa Matich: When it comes to finding the right technology, Greg doesn’t wait on the sidelines either. In some cases, he’s taking matters into his own hands.
Greg McLawsen: Yeah, so a major pain point we’ve identified for clients and just for community members who come to our website, we have a pretty high volume of traffic of people just coming looking for answers on our content management system, is basically wondering where they are in the adjudication process once their case is filed.
A lot of — and this is way worse in the States than it is up here in Canada, but there’s very, very lengthy waiting times for a lot of immigration processes, so people freak out about where their case is in the pipeline.
So we’re going to put out probably as soon as later this week, request for proposals on an app that would scrape data from the immigration agency website, pull somebody’s particular receipt number and give them a visual representation of where they are in the adjudication pipeline, which there are apps that sort of do that but not really and we think we can deliver a more beautiful consumer experience to solve that particular problem not just for the public but also for our clients.
Teresa Matich: Of course, it can be difficult to know exactly what any given client will or won’t like, but in some cases, like the examples discussed here, Greg argues that it’s more obvious than you might think. There will be times when it makes sense to do in-depth surveys to find out what your clients really want but there will also be times to simply have a little empathy, to put yourself in your client’s shoes and experience their experience.
Greg McLawsen: So for any decision, it’s imagine you’re the person in that situation. How does it feel to be there?
Andrew Booth: So if you want to invest in client experience and improve the value your law firm provides, don’t underestimate what you provide to your clients on top of the legal deliverables, and carefully consider the technology you choose from a client experience standpoint.
Greg left us with one final piece of advice for other lawyers. Communicate to your clients about the value you are providing.
Greg McLawsen: I mean, maybe the best I could do is to encourage folks to think critically about where the value is that they are actually delivering to clients and to get out of the habit of thinking about it purely in terms of the legal deliverable.
A good example would be, you know, you can write the most brilliant slam-dunk summary judgment brief in the world, but if your client hasn’t really understood what went into that, then the perceived value isn’t there, even if the hard legal advocacy value is, and that’s a big potential gap if your clients aren’t understanding what you’re doing.
Andrew Booth: That’s a pretty strong argument for investing and creating a positive client experience for small firms, especially in areas of law that affect one’s personal life. But there’s also a pretty strong argument that anyone in any service industry needs to be caring about the client experience even if it seems like you’re working with a business client who only cares about the legal deliverable you provide. To get more insight into this, we spoke with Josh Kubicki.
Josh Kubicki: Yeah, so I’m Josh Kubicki. I am the recent Co-founder of Bold Duck Studio, which is a business design studio specifically geared towards big law and corporate in-house teams.
Teresa Matich: Joshua has also worked as Head of Strategy at Seyfarth Shaw which is an AmLaw100 firm. As Joshua explains, the customer experience permeates everything we do and it’s extremely powerful. It can turn a humble commodity like coffee into a truly enjoyable experience, something that has real value.
Josh Kubicki: The one example I always use, it’s really sort of the bread-and-butter and that is of Starbucks. They have excelled at moving what is basically a commodity product. I mean, think about, ordering a cup of coffee at a diner or something like that or just a greasy spoon, maybe a buck, maybe a buck and a quarter these days.
There’s nothing really fancy about it, but at the end of the day it’s a coffee, and it’s extraordinary that Starbucks has converted this beverage into an absolute experience that as customers of Starbucks we are interacting with Starbucks sometimes hours before we actually drink their product, sometimes hours before we actually enter their store. The Starbucks app, just sort of the image and the brand out there as we crave as consumers, the holiday drinks that are out there, and everyone gets crazy over the latest Frappuccino to sort of the Baristas and how they interact with their customers and all that.
So you look at that example in the marketplace and there’s a lot of other sort of academic studies as well as, folks like McKinsey looking at this, that today’s consumer, whether you’re a millennial or not, but millennials tend to crave experiences over core product and services, we tend to gravitate towards brands that are more thoughtful about providing us an experience beyond just their core product and service.
Andrew Booth: If it’s possible to turn a commodity like coffee into something more valuable by focusing on creating a memorable experience, it’s definitely possible to differentiate your law firm by providing a better client experience. This goes for all types of law firms, even large corporate organizations.
Josh Kubicki: Lots of people think, well, the B2C, the consumer market, doesn’t translate well in sort of the B2B market where the legal markets play, or into the B2B professional services, but there’s really a misconception there.
One, we’re all humans, right? So I don’t care if you’re a big-time lawyer, or a solo lawyer running his or her law firm. We’re all humans. We’re all interacting as consumers and all that. So those habits and behaviors we’re experiencing in our daily lives absolutely migrate and get transferred into our preconceived notions, our expectations around when we buy or interact with anything.
So in the B2B space, we’re seeing large B2B behemoths really trying to think more about their customer journey, more about how easy they are to do business with.
Andrew Booth: This ties into Greg’s point about knowing that the value you provide extends far beyond the legal product you deliver. Piece of mind is one component of extra value a lawyer provides, but there are many more examples.
The client experience encompasses every interaction your law firm has with its clients. This goes both ways; for example, if you neglect different pieces of the client experience, there’s actually a danger of providing negative value, at least that’s how your clients will see it.
Josh Kubicki: So, traditionally or generally, lawyers think of the client value as their advice and counsel they are giving or their work product, right? Which is absolutely, hands down, one of the things that clients buy, right? But that’s not the only things clients are buying. If you are a pain to do business with or you are just rude or you are obnoxious or you can’t get a bill out on time or your bills don’t make any sense or whatever, sooner or later that client relationship is going to erode. You’re giving negative value, even though you may be the smartest lawyer there is.
Teresa Matich: In other words, it’s important to look critically at how you’re sending out bills, how easy it is to do business with your firm, and how certain interactions are perceived by your clients. If there’s a negative experience currently, look for ways to improve it. Maybe your clients want to receive their bills online. Or maybe they’d like the convenience of paying by credit card.
If you’re not sure where to start, Joshua suggests taking an inventory of every interaction your firm has with each client. Simply gaining an awareness of the extent of the client experience can clarify opportunities for your law firm to improve, adding value for clients and improving your firm’s reputation.
Josh Kubicki: Touch points is, it sounds challenging at first, right? But if you think about — again, think about the business to business context and I don’t care if you’re a small law firm or a global law firm, you’ve got certain processes. You’ve got certain ways you communicate. You’ve got certain ways you intake matters. You’ve got certain ways you do the pitch and sort of business development.
There are certain processes and each time there’s a process more than likely you’re interacting or having a touch point with the target client or prospect. Then you have tools, everything from your technology which everyone is completely enamoured with these days, but also sort of forms, right, and databases. Those are tools and sometimes clients or users on the client’s side are interacting with them.
Let’s not forget the people, the people in our businesses. Everyone from administrative help to the global managing partner generally have a direct or indirect role to play in that client experience. It could be setting a mindset of the client team. So a managing partner who probably doesn’t have a lot of client contact, well, how does that person sort of interact with that client team? What sort of expectations is she putting forth on that client relationship partner that then is going to be transferred to how they are thinking about what matters to the client and all that?
So, you map all of these touch points and you start to see there’s not just dozens and dozens but there’s hundreds and hundreds of them. And then you look and say, okay, well, which ones are more significant? Not every one is equal, so you don’t have to do an exhaustive examination of these and sort of design to the nth degree every single touch point, but just getting a sense of how many touch points they are, where they are happen. The epiphanies that happen with lawyers when you go through that exercise are just countless and that’s just the beginning of the process where lawyers start to say, oh, wow, we can actually make it easier for our clients to do business with us.
Teresa Matich: Joshua says that law firms he works with to improve the client experience see real benefits for their businesses.
Josh Kubicki: When we pay more attention to designing experience that is more thoughtful and that takes all of those users into account, we see that those companies, those firms that do that enjoy higher margins. They enjoy greater client retention. And honestly, from sort of the person to person and my experience, you actually start to enjoy your work a little bit more when you’re giving a good experience to a client or receiving it, so it actually makes the work environment a little bit more pleasurable and delightful.
Andrew Booth: Joshua also recommends taking this a step further by truly putting yourself in your client’s shoes and thinking critically about the problem they are actually trying to solve or about the job that you are trying to get done.
Josh Kubicki: So one of the tools or methods that really sort of help lawyers think about this from a client’s perspective, and I apologize, I’ll get a little academic here, but it’s something called Jobs Theory, and really what’s the job to be done.
Andrew Booth: You can learn more about the jobs theory in the book ‘Jobs to Be Done’ by Stephen Wunker, Jessica Wattman and David Farber, but the general idea is that you should focus on the human need your service will fulfill, not the service itself. A common example used to illustrate this is the purchase of a hand drill. The buyer isn’t buying a drill, they are buying a hole in the wall.
Josh Kubicki: There’s an emotional job to get done, right? So if we think about it in a corporate context a certain buyer, say an assistant GC is buying lawyer acts to do some type of work, right? Well, obviously there’s a business reason to do that. They are trying to get a deal done. They are trying to mitigate risk with the expansion of some manufacturing plant in an international market, so on and so forth. There’s an actual business function that’s trying to get done, that that AGC is charged with sort of shepherding the legal elements of that through.
But the emotional job begun is that AGC, you know, they have emotions. How do they want to experience that? Are they someone that feels like they need to have complete transparency, right? They need to know what their outside counsel are doing every minute. Do they demand sort of reassuring communications or do they demand sort of direct candor? Are they worried about how they’re being perceived by their bosses? Are they worried about how they’re being positioned with the business unit that’s trying to get this job done?
This sounds like a lot of touchy, feely, psychotherapy stuff here. It’s not. In fact, a lot of this emotional job to be done can be discovered just by having a conversation with this client and paying attention.
Andrew Booth: To take it even further, often clients aren’t trying to just solve their problems or complete their job, there are multiple other people involved in the process and the way that each of these people respond to your work, once they see it, will affect your client’s experience. The upshot is, you may need to be thinking about the experiences of the people your client interacts with as well.
Josh Kubicki: A good example is a retail lease, right? So in-house counsel, you know, uses outside counsel to negotiate retail leases. Say you’re a large franchise company. Well, that lease, great. Okay. So what matters in that lease to the — sort of the boots on the ground, the expansion manager who’s charged with identifying land and engaging it in a lease as quickly as possible. Well, they care about the terms and conditions and really the timeline, right? So that’s what they’re going to look at, at the lease. What is sort of the risk and mitigation person going to be or compliance person going to be looking at? They’re going to be looking at land use compliance, they’re going to make sure that’s a lease in course, so they are going to be looking at that sort of language in the lease and the lawyer is going to make sure that it fits sort of the company’s overall sort of strategy and risk profile for how they like leases going out and they have a good sense for what’s negotiable and what’s not as sort of they move forward.
So, when you start to unpack that for outside counsel they start to realize that their work product has different levels of involvement and interaction once it’s delivered. And each one of those people are actually a user that could be saying things back to their client like, oh my god, this is horrible, or I don’t know who you’re using but this is just not working, or they negotiated this poorly, so on and so forth.
Teresa Matich: So the client experience involves a serious investment. For your firm to build a great client experience and to gain all the benefits that come with that you need to first get insight into the emotional need behind their business ask and then you need to get insight into the business asks of those they are interacting with as well. How do you get this information? Simply talking to your clients is a good place to start, but as Joshua explains, in most cases it isn’t that simple.
Josh Kubicki: It’s the Henry Ford quote, you know. If I had asked people what they want they’d say faster horses. It’s the notion that most people really operate on the surface level and they’re looking for quick fixes, not really going to the root cause of their problems.
Teresa Matich: Getting to the root of your client’s problems and coming up with creative solutions can be an intensive process, but it’s well worth the competitive advantage it will build for your firm. By asking the right questions, analyzing answers and empathizing with your clients, you’ll be that much better positioned to create a brand and a reputation that’s a cut above the rest.
Andrew Booth: Investing in the client experience can pave the way for a significant competitive advantage for your firm. No matter where your firm’s client experience stands now, keep looking for big and small opportunities to improve the client experience. Maybe you want to create a more user-friendly client intake form, or maybe you just want to have a counselor to refer clients to for especially emotional issues like bankruptcy or divorce.
Teresa Matich: The client experience you create goes far beyond the legal deliverable you provide even if you are dealing with a business client and creating an exceptional client experience is an excellent way to make your overall services more valuable. Clearly communicate the value of the experience you are providing, and you’ll be even further ahead.
If you are looking to dive even deeper into the client experience, there are plenty of tools and methods you can use to really get into it. In addition to using jobs theory to think about your client’s problems, both Joshua and Greg mentioned using the idea of design thinking to get to the root of your client’s experiences. They also talk about using a Net Promoter Score or NPS to track and measure how well you’re doing in terms of the client experience. You can learn more about these concepts by clicking on the links in the Resources section of this podcast.
Andrew Booth: Thanks for listening to the first episode of ‘Matters’. ‘Matters’ is produced by Andrew Booth, Teresa Matich and Derek Bolen, and by Clio, the world’s leading cloud-based legal practice management software.
Be sure to subscribe to ‘Matters’ to ensure you never miss an episode. If you’d like to learn more about Clio, please visit us at clio.com.