A paper released by LexisNexis, “The Art of Keeping Up” follows up its 2015 Bellwether survey Report, “The Age of the Client” – to effect that modern clients are more informed, choosy and demanding, and legal businesses have to be increasingly smart and entrepreneurial to survive – and highlights myopia or even complacency towards these trends among law firms. Apparently, some 80% of lawyers think their services are ‘above average’ in meeting clients’ expectations, while only 40% of clients agree; and of those lawyers who are on message, a disproportionate number are young and/or female.
Perhaps we should not be surprised, because most lawyers chose their careers in the first place because they want to make their living by telling folks what’s what, rather than supplying results or products to order. They regard the real arts of legal practice to be accuracy and consistency of bespoke advice, and treat the whims of capricious customers as an occupational obstacle, and occasional hazard. Nor is it surprising that those inclinations become more embedded with seniority and command within firms. It’s a culture which is going to have to change, but it will be difficult and the pace will be slower than customers want; and some important values will become diluted in the process.
The survey results also resonate with my own experience as a professional risk lawyer, helping firms with their claims and exposures. Most are populated in their higher tiers by people who are not at all resistant to change, nor commercially obtuse; but they are reluctant to embrace conditions which challenge their own ideas of what clients should be told or given, and what an optimum service model – and profit margin – should look like. Very few are especially arrogant. But lack of personal confidence is a common trait among lawyers and often causes them to react to complaints and criticisms with defensive sensitivity and riposte, which disenchants clients and claimants alike. They also tend to focus too much on status and success relative to peers and competitors, without enough concentration on brand projection and positive curiosity as to how their service might have been better tuned to their clients’ expectations or, most especially, budget.
About the author
Mike Willis incorporated F Mike Willis Ltd, a solicitors practice in November 2014, offering regulatory risk-related advisory and representative services. Prior to this, he was a Partner in the Leeds office of DAC Beachcroft LLP from 1993 to 2014 handling professional indemnity claims on behalf of solicitors, brokers, accountants, surveyors, and other professions. Mike was also the firm’s professional risks Partner (national and international), and a member of the firm’s Risk Management Directorate, consulted by colleagues and by other firms on a variety of technical, procedural, ethical, regulatory/disciplinary, and purely practical problems.