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The Mad Clientist

Why Clients Fire: The Silent Epidemic Undermining Your Firm

By March 30, 2016April 16th, 2020No Comments

More than 50% of clients say their primary law firm’s biggest weakness is inconsistency.*

Consistency in delivery is synonymous with quality, client service and trustworthiness. Clients interpret uneven delivery as lack of commitment, lack of communication within the team, and doubt as to whether the team understands the client’s underlying goals.

Clients report 4 major areas where law firms are the most inconsistent:

  • Keeping clients informed
  • Dealing with unexpected changes
  • Handling problems
  • Meeting scope

Clients dream of one stream of proactive communication keeping them in the loop about all matters at a firm, all delivered at a uniformly high level. Instead, clients receive an unpredictable set of communications arriving in different forms at different times from different people. Not only does this create work for clients—it unnerves them. Clients start to believe no one is watching over their business.

This law firm inconsistency is a silent epidemic. Few law firms ever take inventory of all the different interpretations of how and when to talk to clients. This offers wide latitude in exactly how clients experience their interactions. The more difference in style, substance, and schedule, the more inconsistent the experience. Nothing intentional—inconsistency just happens—unless a firm provides a set of performance standards for all to understand.

Your inconsistent delivery is exceptionally hard to detect. Few firms ever test for and measure consistency. Even fewer firms define client service performance standards to clearly articulate what an exceptional client experience looks like. Instead, each partner is left to define their own standard.

Defining Consistency

In 2014, during their first round of client feedback interviews with BTI, we discovered inconsistency in delivery across Firm X’s client base. Worse yet, we found one of their largest clients reluctant to expand their relationship with the firm. During the interview we learned this important client had awarded more than $4 million in work to another firm due to the inconsistencies between all of the attorneys she worked with at Firm X. Nothing legal—but everything else.

We worked with Firm X to fly into action and develop firm-wide performance standards for service delivery.

The firm chair met with the GC in person—offering a blanket apology. With the guidance of the feedback interviews, the chair proposed developing performance standards for this client—based on their specific goals and preferences.

We collectively built out—with Firm X and their client—detailed performance expectations for the most influential client touch points, including:

  • Confirming client goals in writing
  • Partners providing a detailed explanation of invoices over the budgeted amount before submitting the invoice
  • Providing updates based on client preference
  • Informing clients of scope changes in near real time
    • Including impacts on budget and timing
    • Outlining impacts on outcomes
  • Planning points of informal client communication throughout the matter

Firm X’s chair arranged to train everyone associated with this client in the new client service standards in three sessions—one for partners, one for associates and one for support. The chair and GC now meet twice a year to discuss performance and how to continually improve. Firm X also measures performance in these areas (and more).

Two years later the relationship has more than doubled to exceed $7 million in annual billings.

Strategic client feedback is the only reliable tool to test for and measure your firm’s client-facing consistency. Your ability to deliver to a uniformly high standard signals your ability to take on more complex work and work in additional practices. Inconsistency compels clients to look elsewhere when awarding their next large assignment.


*Based on BTI research conducted between March 2015 and September 2015. BTI conducted more than 300 independent, individual interviews with CLOs and General Counsel at Fortune 1000 companies and large organizations.

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