By Angela Long
The success of the modern law firm hinges on its ability to adapt and pivot. Even before being struck by a global health crisis, the profession has been experiencing significant disruption due to rapid changes in technology that reshaped client expectations. Today, the combination of these two factors results in an urgent need for law firms to embrace change like never before.
So, what will the law firm of the future look like? What can firms do now to succeed amid the chaos and how can they prepare themselves for future disruptions, challenges and pressures? In order to answer these questions, we must direct our focus to the client experience. I spoke with Heinan Landa, founder and CEO of Optimal Networks and author of “The Modern Law Firm: How to Thrive in an Era of Rapid Technological Change,” to get his perspective on how law firms can embrace and deliver on a client-focused strategy. Here he shares his ideas and expertise based on three decades of providing IT services to law firms.
How has the legal landscape been evolving over the last 10 years?
There’s no doubt the legal landscape has transformed dramatically with innovative new models for delivering legal services. The internet has single handedly upended the buyer’s journey. Gone are the days when businesses and individuals would select their preferred representation based solely on the recommendation of a friend or colleague. The way law firms present themselves online has a direct impact on a firm’s reputation and will actively win or cost the firm new business.
The means we provide services has also shifted. Customer satisfaction is now prioritized, as even the slightest hiccup can send a client to any of the dozens of competitors that can be easily identified within seconds on a smartphone. In order to thrive in the ever-changing legal landscape, law firms cannot afford to lag behind the times as they have historically done. They must embrace change and invest heavily in new technology and innovative business development initiatives.
Take document collaboration, for example. This can easily devolve into a convoluted back-and-forth process that consumes loads of time and energy. In the past, we’ve seen teams trying to juggle multiple copies of the same file over splintered email chains, editing one by one and causing confusion and headaches for all involved. The modern law firm implements innovative tools to collaborate and coauthor documents in real time (or even screen share in a video conference) to ensure everyone is quite literally on the same page — including the client. Offering a portal where clients can access all their files and documents in one place whenever they need is yet another way to prioritize customer satisfaction. This is what embracing change looks like.
How has the pandemic expedited the law firm of the future?
It should come as no surprise that this pandemic has disrupted the workplace environment as we know it. Businesses and law firms alike have had to make a rapid shift to working remotely, as well as placing a new focus on utilizing technology to keep us efficient and, above all, connected.
The legal industry is not typically known for its technological agility, and the current world health crisis has underscored the risks of this stance in a big way. I recently spoke to a client of mine who — unlike many of his competitors — embraced cloud computing and remote work years ago. Their shift to working from home was completely seamless, and they didn’t miss a beat when it came to serving their clients. Meanwhile, other firms he knows went dark for days, even weeks, before they got their technology figured out. Can you imagine how their clients felt about that? How it impacted their revenue?
In order to stay afloat — and more importantly, continue to see success — it is of the utmost importance that firms reconsider the prevailing notion that IT is merely a cost center.
The law firm of the future leverages technology that eliminates barriers to being responsive and productive, maximizes internal efficiencies that drive client satisfaction, and weathers unforeseen challenges with relative ease from an operational perspective.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that those with the ability to adapt and accept change are the ones who will continue to see success far into the future. More than that, those who can use this ability as a strength will be the ones at the forefront of the industry.
Why is exceptional client service a differentiator?
Many law firms focus on fixing internal issues rather than focusing on client satisfaction. Today, clients have more choices than ever for meeting their legal needs, and leading firms are now tailoring their strategies and delivery models to provide legal services in the manner that most effectively intersects with client expectations. The only way firms will thrive in the coming years is by providing their prospective and current clients with the right experiences — starting with the very first time that client interacts with the firm online and carrying through to quantifiably measuring the success of a completed engagement.
Today’s consumer is armed with nearly perfect information and nearly nonexistent patience. About 70% of the buyer’s journey is carried out digitally, and in the age of next-day shipping, chatbots and FaceTime, taking two full days to respond to a prospective client’s online inquiry is unacceptable. Heck, even waiting more than three seconds for your website to load is a deal breaker for 40% of your website visitors. Imagine how much higher the stakes are once they’re paying you by the hour! Firms must embrace a mindset of responsiveness and efficiency; for better or for worse, legal expertise alone is insufficient.
Not only do we need to understand and internalize what the modern client experience looks like from the client’s perspective, but we also need to take great care to deliberately mold and nurture this experience from the outset.
How can a firm master exceptional client service?
It’s important to ask yourself and your team, “How do we differentiate ourselves in a way that actually means something to our clients?” Today’s lawyer understands you must be willing to go the extra mile for clients in the following areas:
- Fast communication is key to standing out in a crowded marketplace. There are many ways to effectively communicate with your clients, but tapping into the communication tactics they’re already using is key. This way, you are a fully integrated and accommodating partner. Take the time to understand their processes and procedures to build a better relationship with them.
- Find ways to expedite processes and save your clients money. Skip travel time and extra charges by hosting more video conferencing sessions and use secure technologies to collaborate on important documents. Your clients will also appreciate the collaborative nature of your partnership.
- Take a close look at new ways to store and find important information. You need to be able to bring your firm’s collective historical expertise to bear as the situation demands. Utilize tools like cloud technology to overcome cumbersome and tedious processes that may be holding your firm back from getting new business and establishing better relationships with clients.
- Innovation, as I define it, is the habit of being on the lookout for new trends that might affect your firm and your clients, and facing them head-on. It’s a mindset of courage, adaptability and curiosity. Without innovation, your firm might still perform well, but what are the chances you or your clients will get blindsided at some point? Can you, for example, guide your clients through legal ramifications of new technologies like AI, or help someone with a dispute over a “smart contract?” While you must be ready to combat these new challenges, you should also learn to embrace the many opportunities in innovation. Utilizing practical technology trends like AI and blockchain could potentially serve as new, high-growth practice areas for your firm. With the ever-changing landscape, innovation is the key to growth and client satisfaction.
Do you have any final words of advice for our readers?
Seize this opportunity to adopt a forward-thinking, client-centric approach to your firm’s strategic direction. You’ll be poised to lead the pack coming out of this pandemic and thrive for years to come.
Angela Long is a strategic marketer with a passion for creating brands and experiences that connect with clients and that uniquely position firms and professionals in the marketplace. She has worked on both the firm/agency side and the client side, and has deep experience in creating strategies and integrated and digital marketing campaigns in industries that include legal, healthcare, biotechnology, and consumer goods. Her super power is translating strategy into impactful, actionable programs, which she accomplishes by working closely with business development, aligning marketing with the customer decision journey and optimizing the lead generation process.
After her experience on the client side, Angela realized she missed professional services. Angela joined the law firm Womble Bond Dickinson in 2017 to lead the firm’s marketing efforts in the mid-Atlantic region. She is currently seeking her next marketing and business development challenge, in line with her interest in client services.