Clients assume lawyers have the right expertise and will deliver good outcomes. For all but a few matters, to keep and win work, firms must create a good client experience by customizing and optimizing service delivery

I start with a couple of observations from outside legal about service delivery. I now use Skype for conference calls and for screen sharing. Skype is free and, unlike most audio conference services, shows who is talking – a great feature when on the line with new contacts., unlike Webex, offers basic service free and is less of a hassle to set up. Because new these new providers offer better service delivery, they win my business. The lesson? Through better service delivery, new providers gain share of market and share of wallet.

That ideas is now taking hold in the legal market. Only a few firms will continue to win business on the strength of their name. The rest must provide clients with better service delivery to keep and win business. That means understanding client expectations and changing how how lawyers practice and the firm operates, for example, with alternative fee arrangements, process improvement, project management, KM, technology, new approaches to resource allocation, a better approach to staff support, value-add services (e.g., private content), and tailored business intelligence.

Three news items this week drive home this point. The Monday New York Times editorial, The Cautionary Tale of Dewey & LeBoeuf notes that large firms face “more competition from firms abroad and newcomers to legal work”, a move of work in-house, and clients who “are increasingly aggressive about keeping fees down and asking firms to share risks”. That BigLaw market pressures make it to the op-ed page of the Times tells us a lot.

Today, Patrick Lamb of Valorem Law, in his New Normal column in the ABA Journal, writes “Skilled judgment must be delivered efficiently. Clients care what service costs—even skilled service. Clients want service to be delivered predictably.” He likens a good lawyer to a symphony conductor who causes “other lawyers and third parties to work efficiently and effectively together to produce results at a cost known to and approved by the client.”

The Times summarizes the pressures and Patrick explains how service delivery can respond to the pressure. But the managing partner of Seyfarth, J. Stephen Poor, in the Monday Times Dealbook Blog post, Re-Engineering the Business of Law, illustrates that making these changes is not so easy. He opens with:

“True long-term success requires businesses to improve continually and reimagine how they operate in the face of changing competition and market forces. Yet this innovative urge, which drives so much of the rest of the American economy, is largely absent from large law firms.”
[The imperative for firms he says is to] “find different paths to deliver value to those who buy our services. Lawyers today should be asking themselves nontraditional questions: how to apply resources more effectively, to shorten cycle time and lower the cost of their work product and other deliverables, while raising the level of service.”

He explains challenges his firm faced in executing their well-publicized process improvement and that marketing is not enough: firms must change how they deliver services.

I agree. One of my current projects is developing a service delivery effectiveness assessment. In doing that, I see that while few metrics or guideposts exist, firms have the opportunity to consider – and adjust – many aspects of how their lawyers practice and how their firms operate as businesses. As Mr. Poor suggests, the path may not always be easy. But the imperative is clear and the pay-offs worth it.

[Link to prior Service Delivery posts.]