I recently asked here how large law firms should define “good client service”. Subsequently, I posed this question at a meeting of several experienced BigLaw professionals. 

All of us – lawyer, librarian, marketer, IT, KM professional, practice manager – struggled to define good client service. In a flat legal market, the large firm that successfully delivers “good service” can likely win share. So perhaps it’s time for BigLaw to ask what clients what they really want. (If I’ve missed an accepted, quantifiable definition of good service, let me know.)

In our meeting, all of us agreed that regular client communication is a key element of good service. I proposed a thought experiment. Use firm systems- e-mail, individual lawyer calendars, CRM, and the VOIP phone system – to measure the amount of communication between relationship partners and clients. I suggested that firms could set communication “service levels”. For example, million dollar a month clients might warrant two calls per month while 2 calls per year might suffice for the $20k/month client.

Whatever the number, the point is to define prospectively the right amount of communication, measure it objectively, and take corrective action if it falls short of the service level. Management would, at minimum, talk to partners who fell short. Everyone was visibly uncomfortable with that idea.

That reaction is understandable; BigLaw dislikes Big Brother. That mindset, however, stems from a fundamental problem: partnerships are closer to a collection of solos than to an integrated, single entity. In the latter, why would anyone flinch at the idea that management tracks performance and provides feedback when it falls short?

The more general point is that once we define elements of “good service”, we can come up with metrics to track it. Legal technology will support some metrics, surveys others. This is not rocket science. Rather, it’s a matter of motivation and some thinking.

Maybe lawyers – inside and outside – avoid defining good service because “be careful what you ask for lest you get it”. Specifying good service means clients need to say in advance what they want and how they will measure it. Outside counsel then needs to deliver. Both seem uncomfortable about being pinned down. And that’s too bad – it may explain the disconnect many surveys show between corporate law departments and BigLaw.