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Looking at the wind of change which is blowing through law firms
“The public regards lawyers with great distrust. They think lawyers are smarter than the average guy but use their intelligence deviously. Well, they’re wrong; usually, they are not smarter.”
F. Lee Bailey’s career as a US Attorney may not have run smoothly but in the quote above he encapsulates a perception of the law and of lawyers which sadly all too many people still have today. It’s not surprising really. Excluding possible criminal cases, the vast majority of individuals will only come up against the law when they are faced with often unpleasant ‘life events’ such as divorce, arranging a power of attorney for a relative or following a death.. For them the law is a necessary expense whose purpose is not fully understood. The proliferation of accident/debt/mis-selling adverts on the TV doesn’t help and neither do arguments about the cost of items such as car insurance being bumped up by false claims.
Even in the business sphere, those involved in the law are seen as writers of long documents which seek to absolve all blame in every circumstance. It’s no coincidence that as part of its drive for fairness the FCA is calling for a revision of banking terms and conditions; some of which according to the FCA are longer than Macbeth. But the world is changing and law firms are not immune to the wind of change.
In recent weeks we’ve seen comments in the Law Society Gazette to the effect that Basel III regulations could hit firms through lower levels of interest paid on client balances and that ABS waivers could hit law firm competitors. But challenges of this nature are as nothing when compared to the task of meeting revised customer expectations. Thanks to the internet, customers are now more legal-savvy than at any time in history. They are used to browsing on the web, looking up case law before approaching a practice, and will no longer be satisfied with anything other than a complete and professional solution.
In effect, clients have moved from a blind acceptance of ostensible professionalism towards a partnership model in which they are looking for co-created solutions. Yes they want to tap into the legal knowledge which is on offer but they expect fairness, collaboration and a high level of professionalism in return. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson “The good lawyer is not the man who has an eye to every side and angle of contingency and qualifies all his qualifications, but who throws himself on your part so heartily, that he can get you out of a scrape.”
So are law firms ready and waiting for this new challenge; have they reached out and embraced the new will of the people and have they taken steps to move away from a culture of weighty mystique into one which co-creates solutions with their clients? Well the answer is somewhat mixed. In a recent survey in which law professionals were asked “do people in your business have a clear understanding of the customer experience you aim to deliver and are empowered to do what’s needed” only 7% strongly agreed with the statement whilst a further 33% agreed.
Can 60% of the legal profession afford to carry on regardless, not to review their practice model in the light of revised customer expectations and not to take steps to change their culture to provide the exceptional customer experiences which people are now looking for? Well according to an RBS report earlier this year they can’t. The report on the future of the legal profession concluded that “Firms that are nimble, agile and responsive to client needs will fare better than those who are slow or have difficulty in adapting.” The profession is changing, client expectations are changing and those who don’t adapt will have a tough road ahead.