Consistency – The hobgoblin of big firms
In the “new normal” (as it’s called) environment in which the legal profession finds itself, client attachment to law firms cannot be assumed. Even longtime clients might seek new counsel over an issues as “insignificant” as a desire to realize greater value (however defined) from the legal service.
How might a law firm increase its client retention? A book entitled Human Sigma: Managing the Employee-Customer Encounter by John Fleming and Jim Asplund (©2007 Gallup Inc.) provides some useful suggestions. (Even though the book focuses on consumer-oriented interactions, many of its learnings will apply to the relationship between outside counsel and corporate clients, though perhaps with some “tweaking.”) Of particular relevance is the authors’ discussions about the need for consistency in service. While law firms (and outside lawyers generally) like to think of their work as very specific to the matter at hand, they are correct only so far. While the substance of each matter will vary (and, of course, the facts of each matter likely will vary, sometimes considerably), the clients’ need and desire for consistency as to how it is served cannot be denied. It arises in virtually every survey of in-house counsel and often identifies the most-frequent complaint of those survey responders.
Developing consistency of service delivery while allowing for individualized substantive work requires that law firms rethink the independence that their lawyers have been allowed. As law firms grow larger and establish more and more offices (particularly when those offices exist in different jurisdictions and often arise through mergers, acquisitions and other means of non-organic growth), inconsistency of service tends to increase. Thus, management of the service delivery so as to reduce the inconsistency experienced (or endured, to apply a more pejorative term as it’s viewed by the client) by the client becomes a greater and greater task. Nonetheless, consistency of service can increase client retention.