9 in 10 law firms fail the First Impression Test

A new market study, First Impressions Convert: increasing profitability from the first touch-point reveals the prospective clients’ experience when choosing a legal provider and the importance of exceptional client service as a differentiator in an increasingly client-focused environment.

The 2018 research by Client Experience specialists CXINLAW used Mystery Shopping techniques commonly found in the retail industry to establish the quality and impact of prospective client interactions with legal staff. The research sampled a range of 50 small to midsize Australian law firms across a range of law practice areas – from family, wills and estates to business and commercial law matters.

Findings indicate that almost 60% of firms are likely to leave prospects indifferent to their service and 30% of contact is so dissatisfactory that talking negatively about the experience is the norm. All-in-all, 88% of law firms failed the First Impression Test. This result is a deterioration from the 2015 finding and highlights significant and very expensive service failings by law firms - this is especially serious when the prevailing buyers’ market is considered, one in which legal providers cannot afford to underwhelm clients and the need to identify and leverage differentiators has never been more important, or as challenging.

Exceptional service delivery must now be a core value for firms because we have never been so attuned to our experience of the same in the wider service world. Law firm clients are customer just like you and I and as PwC’s latest CEO report asserts: “no longer are customer expectations just set by the organisation they are dealing with. In today's ‘Experience Economy’ the bar is set by the Amazon experience, the Facebook experience, the hotel experience. To remain relevant for customers, the bar has risen.”.

PwC’s operating principle is “everything speaks” and unfortunately it’s the ‘sound of inconvenience’ that’s communicated in first contact interactions with many law firms, thereby turning prospects off an instruction. In most cases it’s evident that the service promises law firms make, are an aspiration rather than a service reality and may leave prospects asking: “if they can’t get the first conversation with me right, what else can they get wrong?”

The following areas have clearly emerged for law firms developing their Client Experience with CXINLAW and each of the four can be applied to successful first contact with prospects and throughout the client relationship. In each of the Four Drivers of Client Experience the percentages show the number of firms in our sample that excelled, and in so doing, highlights the level of improvement required.

  1. Expectation (19%)

  2. Ease (17%)

  3. Emotion (13%)

  4. Effectiveness (10%)

Converting more enquiries into profitable work relies first and foremost on understanding the expectations of your potential clients and adopting a client-first mindset that’s discernible to clients through your operators positive attitude and tone. The firms that performed well then made it easier to speak to the right people who in turn were helpful, empathetic and proactive. Clients want an experience where empathy is the centrepiece and client-centred systems and technology is the seamless enabler.

Once again, the results indicate an urgent need to revisit new client enquiry handling to fully capitalise on the first contact opportunity. If the value of 10 new enquiries to your firm is worth $70,000, then the 2018 findings suggest firms only capture $8,000 of new business and may leave $41,000 on the table for a competitor to secure.

The revenue potential and risk may be much higher than this for your firm - how much time and money does your firm invest to generate new enquiries and what percentage convert into new business, satisfied clients and loyal advocates of your service?

From our experience, most firms don’t track conversion rates of new enquiries or assess the entire client journey of prospects to understand where opportunities are being missed to gain and impress clients throughout the lifecycle of a matter.

The evidence we have gathered suggests that firms are often their own competitor due to the evidence we have gathered suggests that firms are often their own competitor due to poor or average service that can make their clients go “ouch” without them realising this is happening. Prioritising first impressions is where our clients often materialise the strongest and quickest return on their Client.

Experience investment. We have tracked 20%+ improvements in client instructions, making your focus on service delivery a commercial imperative.

Most law firms recognise the importance of a successful Client Experience in today's service-driven legal environment. The issue is that many lack the required know-how to meet the new levels of customer service that clients demand. That's where we can help with actionable service insight, Client Experience development and education.

The best place to buy from is the best place to work - the word ‘service’ needs to reinforced and championed at every level, with everyone passionate about delivery. It can never be just a marketing strategy and must be in the DNA. Apple call this an ‘all-around mandate’.

Realising your firm’s Client Experience advantage means:

  • Knowing your clients better through effective Voice of the Client and service performance monitoring

  • Developing leaders and staff competencies in service, sales and Client Experience

  • Innovating workflow and uplifting the Client Journey with design-thinking, team and client engagement

  • Creating an inspired service culture with happy staff that attracts the best talent and that clients reward

  • Building a Client Success Program with an external partner in the role of your Chief Experience Officer

CXINLAW has been assisting legal providers since 2011 in the UK and more recently in Australasia. Our work has been recognised by the College of Law, law societies and Australasian Legal Practice Management Association for its positive impact in the sector. Most importantly, our clients have benefited from developing their position as providers and employers of choice with profitable results.

About the Author

Carl White is Passionate about the impact of Client Experience Excellence in professional services, Carl entered the legal sector with Ashurst (UK) in 2002 having previously worked in retail operations and theatre production. As a founding director of CXINLAW Carl has supported dozens of legal providers in Europe and Australasia and has deep expertise in employee engagement, customer experience and organisational design. Carl and his team co-authored the highly regarded ‘Customer Experience in Law’ report in 2012 endorsed by the College of Law (UK), and led the market-leading Australian benchmark research in 2015 and 2018 that examines the Client Experience Advantage for law firms, in association with ALPMA. In 2015 Carl was invited to become a Faculty Member of the Queensland Law Society tutoring client service and is the former Vice President of the Continuing Legal Education Association of Australasia (CLEAA).

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