Based on the survey findings, there are gaps to fill, and there is progress to be made.”
Amidst all the proclamations that the law profession has turned some sort of tech and innovation corner because of the pandemic comes a reality jarring Survey from Wolters Kluwer. The Survey, entitled The 2020 Wolters Kluwer Future Ready Lawyer Report, reveals that clients and law firms remain far apart in how they view the world and what they value. The Survey was performed before the crisis. But the fundamental disparity in understanding, expectation, and even values hasn’t changed. Given the mindset of many law firms reflected by the Survey, it may not, at least for a while. The Survey was conducted through interviews of some 700 lawyers in law firms and legal departments across the world.
For example, the top thing the in-house lawyers value for their law firms is the ability to improve productivity, efficiency and collaboration through technology and work processes. This was followed by the ability to specialize, and the ability to understand client needs. But when the law firms were asked how they thought clients evaluated them, the law firm lawyers named price what their client most valued.
Moreover, while 79% of the clients said it was important to them that their law firms demonstrate efficiency and productivity was important, only 28% said their law firms can demonstrate that right now. Here’s one reason that’s so. To the lawyers, it’s all about price. Understanding client needs and specialization is not as important.
For the in-house lawyers, it’s not all about price. It’s really all about value. As Wolters Kluwer put it, “They expect firms to understand them, to collaborate with them, and to provide the specialization and expertise they need while operating in a highly productive and efficient way.” To think price is the critical point is a simplistic analysis that frankly misses the point.
Yes clients care about price. But they want a price that commensurate with the value. As someone once told me, if a bucket is on sale real cheap but it doesn’t have a bottom in it, I don’t want it. No matter what the price. Yes clients want their lawyers to use technology. But they want them to use it to increase value and provide better service.
As someone once told me, if a bucket is on sale real cheap but it doesn’t have a bottom in it, I don’t want it. No matter what the price.
This misunderstanding of client needs is also reflected in what law firms expect to do over the next three years. 83% say they expect to increase the use of technology to improve productivity, and 67% say they plan to invest in technology. But again, this misses the point. Clients say they want greater use of technology not just to increase their lawyers’ productivity (pure output) but also to improve efficiency and collaboration, to get ready access to service and expertise.
In other words, increase value not just do more work. While I’m the first to admit that I embrace technology for all its benefits, focusing on tech and productivity sounds like a panacea that doesn’t address the clients’ real concerns. Focusing just on tech makes it too tempting to make it a “check the box” initiative born out of a belief that all clients want to see is more tech, and they will be satisfied. The key to using technology is to use it to meet client needs. To solve a problem a client has. Otherwise, it’s the tail wagging the proverbial dog.
Law firms don’t understand what their clients want when it comes to tech and thus undervalue it or don’t value it enough to embrace change
Misunderstanding the real issue is also reflected in the reasons given why law firms resist technology: 53% say its due to a resistance of partners to change, and 48% said it costs too much. Law firms don’t understand what their clients want when it comes to tech and thus undervalue it or don’t value it enough to embrace change.
And this misunderstanding is reflected in client satisfaction. 71% of the in-house lawyers were only somewhat satisfied with their law firms. Only I in 4 reported being very satisfied with their law firm. Not where any service industry should want to be.
Law firms know their clients may not be happy with the service they get, but they are not unhappy enough to walk.
The good news, if you can call it that: only 3% of in-house counsel say they are dissatisfied. This basically means while clients aren’t real happy with their legal service providers, they are not unhappy enough to demand real change. So, law firms can get away with resisting or paying lip service to technology and improvement. Law firms know their clients may not be happy with the service they get, but they are not unhappy enough to walk. That makes it hard for the law firms to justify the expense and disruption of change. Sounds a little like the taxicab industry pre-Uber.
Which brings us to a critical conclusion of Wolters Kluwer. For firms that understand what their clients really want and who can leverage technology to satisfy client needs, there is a significant upside market potential. There is an opportunity for some firms to break out of the “we will provide the least amount of service our clients will accept without firing us” mindset and move to a service-driven one. To become client-driven.
At some point, those firms and legal providers who do will break out of the pack.