Better Client Retention Through Better Lawyer-Client Relationships, Part 1

You may be shocked to learn that lawyers routinely rate their own performance higher than do their clients. And this isn’t just true of the biggest egos at the biggest law firms. From the data available, this tendency to think a bit too highly of ourselves appears to be a profession-wide affliction.

While it may be rather funny, it may also be rather dangerous with consequences for client retention. At the heart of client retention is meeting client needs and wants, which are not necessarily the same thing.

Lexis Nexis study

In a 2015 UK study by Lexis Nexis involving 118 lawyers in small and medium sized firms and over 500 clients, 80% of the lawyers rated their performance as, “above average”. Unfortunately, only 40% of their clients agreed[1]. The essential factor in this disconnect was poor communication and differing standards applied by lawyer and by client in assessing performance. For example, while lawyers thought they were doing a great job by explaining fees and the law, clients were home getting irked for the lack of progress updates that they wanted. In fact, lawyers and clients only agreed in their ratings on 2 factors; the importance of explaining fees (rated #1) and the importance of keeping to a timetable (rated #7)[2].

The chart, below, identifies some of the most striking survey results:

Topic Client Rank Lawyer Rank
Provides clear indication of likely costs/fixed fees 1 1
Provides regular updates on progress 2 10
Personally responds to emails/calls within 24 hours 5 3
Good at listening 6 12
Demystifies the law 8 4
Treats you as a partner in the relationship 11 6
Provides tailored services vs package solution 12 9

Report findings – large firms

But if you think the large firms are keeping corporate clients blissful, think again. In a US report entitled, “What Do Clients Want From Their Lawyers”[3], research found that 70% of corporate counsel for American corporations in Europe would not recommend their primary outside firm. Neither fees nor the quality of the legal work were at issue. But when asked, “What is the one thing that outside counsel does that drives you crazy?“, 53% of corporate counsel cited communication issues:[/fusion_text][fusion_text]

What is the one thing that outside counsel does that just drives you crazy?
Failure to keep client adequately informed 21%
Lack of client focus, failure to listen, non-responsiveness, arrogance 15%
Making decisions without client authorization or awareness 10%
Failure to give clear, direct advice 7%

The practical result of this dissatisfaction was that corporate counsel quietly shifted work and revenue away from the primary outside firm with communication issues.

What can firms do to improve client service and avoid the breakdown of an otherwise beautiful attorney-client relationship?  More on that in Part 2.

[1], Page 4.

[2] Id., Page 19.

[3] “What Do Clients Want From Their Lawyers?”,  Clark D. Cunningham, Journal of Dispute Resolution, (2013), Volume 1.