New generation of ‘smart’ clients shaking the foundations of the traditional lawyer-client relationship, posing challenges for lawyers

Research commissioned by LexisNexis owned legal blog Business of Law (a resource platform aimed at independent lawyers) finds that the balance of power between the lawyer and client is shifting. A new breed of tech-savvy, informed, demanding and cost-conscious client is challenging the traditional working practices of legal professionals.

Bellwether 2015: The Age of the Client, the third annual report in the series, reveals:

  • Lawyers are confident about the future in today’s improving economy – two-thirds anticipate practice growth over the next five years.
  • But retaining clients is seen as a challenge by almost six out of 10 lawyers, due to low-cost competitors rapidly entering the legal market and dwindling loyalty.

Despite this, the gap in perception of acceptable levels of service between lawyers and clients is enormous:

  • 80% of lawyers believe they are delivering ‘above average’ service, but only 40% of private clients think they are actually receiving this quality of service.
  • Lawyers vastly misunderstand clients’ customer service priorities:

o    Providing regular progress reports ranks second on clients’ priorities, but lawyers rate it 10th.

o    Lawyers rate ‘good at listening’ 12th out of 14 priorities, while clients rank it sixth.

o    Lawyers rank ‘demystifying the law’ for clients as a higher priority (fourth) compared to eighth by clients

This report is a reminder that private clients are now ‘consumers’ of legal services who equipped with online information and the option of internet-based solutions will increasingly demand evolving service cultures with continuously changing business priorities. The naïve view that lawyers hold of their service levels and the outdated standards of customer service they measure their performance against – must give way to an overhaul of the traditional lawyer-client relationship in favour of proactively addressing customer priorities at every stage of the client journey.

“Clients have never had more leverage, but they are not simply looking for the cheapest solution,” explains William Robins, Operations Director at Keystone Law. “These days, smart clients understand legal services and are looking to match solutions to problems.  For some, cost is the most important factor, for others, its service, but more and more clients are seeking a blend of flexibility, commerciality and value.”

Among the other findings of the report are:

  • Threat of computerisation – Nearly half (48%) of lawyers see increasing client access to the internet and automated legal services as a significant business challenge.
  • Rose tinted view of client satisfaction – Eight out of 10 lawyers believe they are delivering ‘very well’ or quite well on client priorities, but one in three clients feel that the service delivered for their priorities is ‘average’ or ‘below average’.
  • Entrepreneurial lawyers view business differently to non-entrepreneurs – 92% of entrepreneurial independent lawyers say being forward-looking is important. Also, 67% get a real buzz from practising law versus only 27% of non-entrepreneurs.

“The findings of this report highlight the need for a client-centric, holistic and ‘smart’ approach to the business of law,” commented Jon Whittle, Market Development Director at LexisNexis UK.  “To succeed in the current climate, lawyers need to be more than just great lawyers – they need to be smart business people. Lawyers now need to implement clear strategies for every part of their business – from client relationship management, marketing and business development to smart use of tools and technology. Done well, such an approach will support firms in winning over clients, growing the business – and thriving.”

This Bellwether 2015 reportis the third in the series and reveals how independent lawyers, small to midsize firms and sole practitioners are handling the new demands of the Age of the Client. It looks at the forces that are transforming the traditional client/lawyer relationship, explores how firms can meet new expectations, and asks what the profession’s entrepreneurs can teach us about succeeding in this new environment. The report is based on interviews with 118 independent lawyers and more than 500 private clients across England.

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