Delivering Great Client Service

Become More Client-Centric Using Technology

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There is a huge untapped market when it comes to serving Americans’ legal needs. While 75 percent of people deal with at least one legal issue a year (“How Legal and Financial Issues Impact Employee Wellness,” Russell Research for ARAG, February 2017), only 24 percent of people with those issues used a lawyer for advice or representation. This translates to hundreds of millions of people who could use an attorney’s help.

Why Aren’t They Hiring Attorneys?

The two most common reasons people don’t use attorneys are they don’t see a need for an attorney’s advice—or don’t think an attorney could make a difference. These reasons don’t reflect well on our profession. In a 2015 ABA focus group, participants shared that they viewed “poor customer service as a strategic imperative” of the legal system. They went on to describe the system as “time-consuming, prohibitively expensive, impersonal, inefficient and intimidating”.

If potential clients view the process this way, no wonder the majority of people with legal issues aren’t reaching out to attorneys—they’re turning elsewhere. The same focus group shows the Internet is the first place people turn when they have a legal problem. This makes sense—that’s what we all do when we have a problem or question. We think we can find the answers ourselves and trust that the information is accurate (even if it isn’t). So why should people view us and the legal system differently?

As Bob Young noted in a 2017 article for Law Practice Today, “A law firm is no different from any other kind of business. If we’re not serving our clients in ways they need, they will look elsewhere”. This is a crucial thing to keep in mind—we might see ourselves differently than other service providers, but our clients don’t.

I challenge all of us when thinking about how to attract and retain new clients or help people see value in what we do to put ourselves in the shoes of a consumer, and not think of them as a client. Jordan Furlong points out that “calling someone a ‘client’ can mask the equally important fact that this person is also a customer—someone who’s paying money for the timely and pleasant delivery of certain goods and services. ‘Client’ is a word that encourages professionalism among lawyers, of course, but it doesn’t necessarily encourage responsiveness, service or customer care” (Jordan Furlong, Law Is a Buyer’s Market: Building a Client-First Law Firm, Law21 Press, 2017).

We must remember we’re providing a service, and we need to view our services through the eyes of consumers. Consumers have certain standards and requirements; if the service provider doesn’t meet these expectations, consumers find someone else. Put on your consumer “hat” and ask yourself: As a consumer, would you want to buy your services based on the information available about you on your website, on Internet review sites, or on social media? Would you buy your services based on how your staff answers the phone or how you communicate with potential clients?

Consumers today have high service expectations and demand responsiveness. They want answers at their fingertips—or served up by Alexa, Siri, Cortana, or other “smart assistants.” Consumers are okay doing things themselves, such as filling out template forms online, and they don’t necessarily balk at the idea of an online tech company providing legal resources. If consumers do decide they need an attorney’s help, they want the attorney available not just in person or over the phone but by e-mail and text.

Why, then, isn’t it the norm that attorneys are providing services the way consumers want? Why does the legal system seem to be behind the curve when it comes to technology? This may be because attorneys as a group are very averse to change. According to research done by Dr. Larry Richard, attorneys are more skeptical than 90 percent of the general public. We’re also more autonomous but less resilient. Richard says, “It’s little surprise that lawyers, even among other professions, are not wholly accepting of change, especially when it comes in the form of a large wave” (quoted in Reid Trautz, “If Times They Are a-Changing, Why Aren’t Lawyers Too?” Law Practice Today, December 14, 2016).

Whether attorneys are accepting of it or not, change is needed. And not just because consumers demand it. It’s needed because the current environment is no longer working for attorneys, either. Clio’s 2017 Legal Trend Report found that attorneys spend only 2.3 hours of their day on billable tasks—and on average only collect payment for 1.6 hours of that day (2017 Legal Trends Report, Clio and Themis Solutions, Inc.).

How are most of us spending our time, then, if not on billable tasks? The two biggest culprits are administrative tasks such as generating/sending bills (48 percent of an attorney’s time) and business development (33 percent). While none of us probably gets excited about administrative tasks, business development is crucial—it takes time to get more clients, right? The problem is that 91 percent of firms can’t calculate a return on their advertising investments (id.). That leaves us with a pretty dim picture of how attorneys are building and maintaining firms.

Incorporating Gamification into Your Practice

Gamification is the application of game components (rewards, points, levels, competition, etc.) to processes that normally aren’t games—such as law firm billing or client communication. Gamification builds on the natural wiring of our brains—achieving something positive releases dopamine, which makes us feel good. This reward motivates us to want to do similar actions again. Understanding this can be especially helpful with legal clients, who are often dealing with a negative legal issue. Experiencing positive gaming elements makes clients more likely to engage and collaborate.

Gamification doesn’t mean creating a game for your clients. It can be as simple as adding levels of completion checkmarks to your online client intake forms process—think about how LinkedIn or other websites show you the percentage of your profile completed and label you an “all-star” once you’ve entered all the information. That’s a small thing that has a big impact psychologically.

Another example could be adding rewards into your billing process—incentivize clients to pay online and submit bills on time by giving them points when they perform these actions in a timely manner. Then reward them once they reach a certain number of points.

How Technology Can Help

In order to turn all this around so that you’re growing your business, maximizing billable hours, and providing customer service that meets your clients’ expectations, you must be open to using technology. In the last two years, only half of small law firms have adopted new technology (Thomson Reuters Solo and Small Law Survey, 2016). Considering the pace at which technologies appear on the market, this means firms that go two years without adopting any new technologies are frighteningly behind and risk losing clients to other firms or online solutions.

The beauty of using technology is that you can start small. You don’t need to change everything. Just pick a few ways that you can improve your productivity using various existing tech resources. Below I’ve outlined a few ideas for how technology can help attorneys with the two things that take up most of our time: administrative tasks and business development. (Please note this is not an exhaustive list, just a place to start.)

Administrative Tasks

There are many day-to-day duties that fall in the administrative category—let’s address a few of the bigger ones: billing, documentation, and client communication.

Billing.

Consider investing in cloud-based timekeeping and billing software. Cloud-based systems will ensure your software stays up-to-date and doesn’t require an in-house IT expert (or the hiring of an IT firm), as would the setup and maintenance of a server-based billing system. Most practice management software also includes billing and invoicing services. These give you an easy way to track your time, plus they will auto-populate invoices with the appropriate data. The software provides invoice templates that you simply update and send to your client—and most also give you the chance to automate billing reminders. From the client’s perspective, this is helpful because they can more easily pay bills online with a credit or debit card.

Being a provider on a legal insurance network is also a great way to cut down on the time you spend on the back-and-forth with a client that generally accompanies the billing and payment process—attorneys submit clients’ claims online to the legal insurance company and are paid directly within ten business days. That means no write-offs or lengthy collections issues.

Documentation.

Tom Martin, founder of Foresight Legal Group, P.C., in California, took documentation automation to a level beyond template Word documents (tinyurl.com/ycua9a7p). For documents such as fee agreements and client intake interviews, he set up online forms for clients to fill out with the necessary information. These forms populate templated documents that Martin can then review.

For gathering initial client details in particular, this system has saved him a lot of time. Think about the normal intake interview you do with a client. Often the client won’t have all the information you need—they’ll have to follow up with you later to provide these things, which can take days or weeks. “With automation, the client filling out the form can save their work and provide answers at their convenience before submitting,” Martin explains. “Once the form is completely finished, the answers are e-mailed to me and added to my practice management system. The client then receives an e-mail with a link to my calendar so he or she can schedule an appointment with me to review everything.”

To create online forms like this you can either use practice management software or online document assembly tools, or you could have a freelance developer create it for your own website. If you’re part of a legal insurance network, some of this information (such as basic client details and preliminary information about the legal issue) will be gathered for you and sent to you electronically, saving you time.

Client communication.

Responding to client e-mails might not seem like something that can be automated as easily, but think about how you get a lot of the same questions from clients over and over again. Use a system dedicated to client communications to create templated messages for those occasions when a standard reply is sufficient. This combined with the automated communication accompanying your new billing and documentation processes will give you significantly more time to focus on client work that does need your expertise and personalized attention.

Business Development

To save time and harness the power of technology to develop your business, you need to remember how consumers work. As mentioned, your potential clients are going online to find legal help—or asking family and friends for referrals. More traditional advertising is not going to be as effective, then, as meeting them where they are. How do you do this?

Build awareness online.

A recent study found that only 6 percent of people contact a lawyer seen on a billboard. Only 7 percent contact an attorney heard about in a radio ad (2017 Legal Trends Report, supra). These forms of building awareness aren’t going to give you enough of a return on your investment. You need to be online. And that means more than having a website—although that is a great first step. After you create your firm’s website, make sure you start adding content regularly. Have a blog where you position yourself as a thought leader on local issues and topics. If something is going on in your community that relates to your areas of law, talk about it. That way, when people in your community have a legal issue and need help, they’ll think of you first.

Create a Facebook page for your law firm and utilize other social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter to increase your visibility online. (Before using social media sites for your business, be sure to check your state ethics rules and local bar association to ensure you are in compliance.) Make sure any online attorney directories list your information correctly—you might not want to use them, but the reality is that consumers will find you on them.

Maximize client referrals and reviews.

When consumers are asked how they find an attorney, referrals from family and friends are consistently number one on the list. Providing great customer service means your clients will want to refer you – 88 percent of ARAG plan members say they are likely to refer ARAG network attorneys to family and friends. Just behind referrals on the list are online searches. When deciding on an attorney to hire, 95 percent of consumers say reviews matter (Nika Kabiri, “Sink or Swim: How to Adapt to the New Legal Consumer,” Avvo, 2016).

There are some great online free survey options that you could use to gather reviews to add to your website. Your firm’s Facebook page should also display reviews. (Be sure to reach out to your local bar association for rules regarding the usage of client feedback and ratings before incorporating them onto your own site or in marketing and advertising materials.)

Making client reviews a part of your advertising also has the added benefit of making you more focused on your clients and the service you provide to them. Getting regular feedback can highlight potential areas of improvement when it comes to office communication, billing, and your standard ways of operating. Take these comments into consideration and show consumers you care about their experience and are always interested in taking your service to the next level.

Conclusion

Technology is critically important to providing a consumer-focused experience that yields more successful results for clients and attorneys. By leveraging technology in the straightforward and simple-to-implement ways outlined in this article, you make your services more readily available and expand your reach to a broader client base. You also give yourself more time to focus on what you’re passionate about—helping people with their legal issues in a way that shows them the value of attorneys. The U.S. legal services market is a $437 billion industry, so if you don’t start giving clients what they want, someone else will.

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Nicolle Schippers

Nicolle Schippers is the Associate General Counsel and Legal Industry Advocate at ARAG. Nicolle received her Bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication from Iowa State University, and attended Drake University Law School in Des Moines where she received her Juris Doctorate degree.

Nicolle serves on the Group Legal Services Association (GLSA) Board, the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Board of Directors (ACC), the Iowa State Bar Association (ISBA) Board of Governors, and the Board of Directors for the ISBA Public Service Project Board of Directors, the ACC Iowa Chapter, and the Polk County Bar Association. She is chair of the ISBA Corporate Counsel Section and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and the ISBA Foundation. Nicolle is a published novelist and author whose work has been featured in legal publications such as the ACC Docket and Law Practice Today.

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