This past week the ABA LPM Section held its spring conference in Las Vegas. Of the many topics covered in the sessions and CLEs, the one recurring theme was that the changes in our profession are being driven by the clients. Some of these changes include increased customer service, response time, alternative billing, online access and use of technology by the firm to cut costs and make legal services more easily obtainable and affordable. This client-centric focus on law practice management is important because once these changes have been made by the attorney, there is little room for going back.
Imagine telling the client who has enjoyed online access to the status and files of his case that he must now make in-person appointments in your office and will receive the invoice in the mail in 7-10 business days. Or imagine telling your clients who you provided flat fees for legal services that you will now be charging them by the billable hour rate and instead of a number they can budget, giving them a guestimated range they will owe you upon services rendered.
Through the use of technology and especially through the security of virtual law practice we have much more effective communication with our clients. Why would we as attorneys want to give that up either? Sure, the client-centric changes mean we have to focus more on differentiating our practices from each other and work on marketing our legal services to stay competitive with the slew of other online companies competing with us to provide legal services to the general public — whether or not those competitors are professional or worthy of the clients they pull away from licensed professionals. But the benefit should be that the use of technology gives us the ability to better serve our clients and the time to focus on actually solving problems for individuals rather than getting bogged down in administrative tasks that we later have to find ways to cover in our legal fees.
How do you adapt to a profession that is becoming more client-centric? Start by listening to what your clients are asking for. If you really want the truth, ask your clients to take an online survey to find out how they rate your services. In my own virtual law office, I ask my clients at the end of the representation about their satisfaction with my delivery of legal services online. This has been valuable input in modifying everything from the online processes I use to take in client information to the revising the instructions I provide with my unbundled legal services. I also ask prospective clients how they were referred which tells me if other satisfied clients are sending new business my way. It doesn’t take much of my time at all and is worth it in the long-run.
While many trends in business are cyclical, it is hard to imagine that any attorney or law firm would survive for long trying to go back to providing less customer service to their clients. So in effect, these changes that we see occurring in our profession, partly because they are client-centric, are not going anywhere. The pendulum is not just stuck; it’s broken off.
One of the speakers at the LPM conference referred to a great resource published by the Georgetown Center for the Study of the Legal Profession after their conference this past March entitled “Law Firm Evolution: Brave New World or Business as Usual?” The papers and presentations from the conference are posted online and examine the question of whether the changes in the profession are evolution, revolution or both. It’s worth your time.