It’s no secret that the legal industry is undergoing change. From the shift away from hourly billing, to the downward price pressure, to the growing importance of technology, changes are happening across all aspects of the business. In order to stay ahead of these changes, it’s important to understand the catalysts behind them, and one such catalyst is the needs of consumers. Recently, Eileen O’Loughlin, Legal Market Analyst for the online technology consultancy Software Advice, released a new report which shared findings to assist law firms as they work to restructure their practice to better serve their clients. We had the opportunity to speak with Ms. O’Loughlin to dive deeper into what her research uncovered. Below are her thoughts on how consumers are playing a role in reshaping the legal industry.
Q: The last 10 years have seen significant changes in the legal industry, especially in regard to the delivery of legal services. What role are consumers playing in this ongoing evolution?
A: Over the last decade, the legal industry has transformed from a seller’s market into a buyer’s market—and consumers are largely responsible for this change. Georgetown University Law Center and Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor have tracked this evolution in their annual State of the Legal Market report, noting that clients are increasingly demanding more value for their money.
This means more cost-effective services as well as greater accountability and predictability in the services provided. In order to remain competitive amid the changing landscape, many firms are having to restructure and invest in technology to help them meet these demands.
With the digital transformation paving the way for cheaper services through virtual law offices and legal process outsourcing, now, more than ever, consumers have the ability to shop around if they aren’t satisfied with the service they receive. This means law firms have to take action to remain relevant.
Q: How do consumers measure one firm against another? What qualities are they looking for in legal service providers?
A: To better understand how public opinion and client demands are shaping the industry, we surveyed consumers about the criteria they consider as they compare legal service providers. Our research shows that consumers are most concerned with a provider’s accountability, followed by the level of customer support the firm will provide, as shown in the chart below.
Qualities Consumers Find Important in Legal Service Providers
For existing clients, attorneys can demonstrate accountability and customer service by initiating contact with the client frequently. Set up reminders to check in periodically on the status of the case and always be prompt and responsive when responding to inquiries. Good customer service is more critical than ever.
It’s slightly harder to demonstrate these qualities to prospective clients, but one way to go about this is to work at creating a positive online presence. Remember that 83 percent of the general public uses reviews sites, such as Yelp, when searching for a new lawyer. By establishing your presence in these networks, you can establish your credibility and make yourself stand out from the competition.
You should also let clients know that you’re interested in their feedback regarding the quality of service they received. Be polite when responding to criticism, and then take that feedback and actively work to make improvements. Often the professionalism with which you handle constructive criticism can mean more than a five-star rating.
Q: How important is it that a firm use legal practice management software?
A: In the current legal landscape, the decision to invest in legal practice management software can give a firm a leg up on its competition. For example, we know that of the hundreds of legal service providers who contact Software Advice each year, only 40 percent are currently using legal management software to manage their practice. This means that the majority of firms have yet to make the jump from manual methods to technology.
Not only have these tools been shown to improve a firm’s organization, efficiency and output, but can also provide firms with a means of demonstrating the qualities prospective buyers are looking for as they evaluate service providers: accountability and customer service.
For example, most systems are capable of tracking billable time, maintaining a searchable database of case and client information, helping attorneys separate client funds from their own and even storing details from phone calls and setting call-back reminders.
What’s more, according to the data from our consumer survey, 32 percent of consumers say that a firm’s use of software to help them manage client funds, i.e., attorney trust accounting, would impact their decision to choose that firm over another.
So, not only will using the latest law firm technology benefit your firm from an efficiency and organization standpoint, it also serves as an important factor in your clients’ level of satisfaction.
Consumer Preference in Trust Accounting Solutions
Q: Are there other technical capabilities that consumers look for in legal service providers?
A: In addition to trust accounting, the top technical capabilities consumers look for in legal service providers are financial reporting and a client portal. Both these capabilities reflect a client’s desire for firms to display transparency and accountability—especially when managing client funds.
Most legal billing systems will include a variety of financial reports. It’s a good idea to schedule recurring statements to be sent to clients regarding the current status of their account, including a list of services rendered and the fees associated with those services and a recap of transactions, both withdrawals and deposits.
Look for systems that include a client portal where clients can go to deposit funds, submit documents and files and receive status updates pertaining to their case.
Q: What are some best practices in building and maintaining client relationships?
A: Because of the recent shift in the market, it’s more important than ever for law firms to build and maintain client relationships. One way attorneys can do this is by utilizing a CRM system.
A CRM can help you manage contact information and correspondence, keep track of your referrals, remind you to follow up with old colleagues periodically, implement a structured sales process to drive more revenue, and much more.
It can also help you grow your practice by generating more referrals from existing clients and contacts. Staying on top of your network will help remind your clients and colleagues that if they have a friend or family member who needs legal advice, that you would be happy to help them.
These personal touches can go a long way in demonstrating the qualities consumers are looking for when evaluating legal service providers, and technology is a critical part of the process because it gives you the tools you accomplish more with less time and hassle.