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Trust trumps cost when clients choose a law firm

by LawNet | October 03, 2019

Biggest-ever sector research reveals client motivations and highlights the cultural shift needed by firms to match growing expectation.

Price transparency rules require law firms to open their costings and credentials to greater scrutiny, but reputation and trust are the most important factors when it comes to choosing a firm, according to benchmarked consumer-facing research. 
The findings are drawn from the biggest-ever client experience research project conducted in the legal sector, with almost 70,000 satisfaction surveys and 5,000 anonymous experience reviews undertaken during the past six years by LawNet, the collaborative non-profit network for independent law firms, as part of its ISO 9001 audited Excellence Mark. 

The responses showed that just 4% of new business is won on price, with two-thirds generated through reputation and trust – comprised of 30% from existing clients, 19% by recommendation and 17% because of the people or character of the firm.

When it came to cost, more important to clients than the price quoted was understanding how charging worked. They also wanted to know the benefits of using the firm and to be kept updated as work progressed, highlighting the need for firms to tackle negotiating and sales skills, as well as strong client reporting. 

This reflects findings by the Law Society suggesting buyers cannot differentiate between firms, yet only 28% of firms in national benchmarked surveying  explain why a client should choose them.  Similarly, SRA research shows 95% percent of lawyers think they explain the charging system clearly at the outset, but only 70% of clients agree . 

“Many lawyers see negotiating as part of their core skill set, yet our research suggests there is often a skills gap when it comes to talking about costs with clients,” said Helen Hamilton-Shaw, LawNet member engagement & strategy director.  “But it is an issue that responds well to targeted action, once firms know they need to develop skills. Across the network, the way that walk-in enquiries are handled has improved by 24% in the past four years, and the way that staff handle a potential sales lead, by asking for permission to follow up on the enquiry, has shown a massive 41% improvement.”

The Excellence Mark is an integral part of the LawNet ISO 9001 standard and the measure by which client service is audited across all member firms.  Delivered and measured through independent providers, the resulting knowledge is used to guide improvements, training and future development. 

Added Hamilton-Shaw: 
“We have clear evidence that this process of measurement and support can drive significant performance improvements in firms. LawNet firms are almost 20% ahead of the sector in delivering the sales experience needed to drive new business and 13% ahead in terms of overall client satisfaction, and this follows through into their business outputs.” 

Those figures are drawn from the anonymously-conducted experience reviews, where overall performance by LawNet firms increased by 15% from 2013 to 2019.  This now stands at 67%, compared with 58% across the rest of the sector .   At headline level, overall satisfaction recorded in the benchmarked surveying across all firms stood at 89% in 2012-13.  Following targeted action, this now stands at 97%, which is 13% higher than the sector as a whole, according to the LCSP Tracker Survey 2018.

With the rise of online reviews and peer-to-peer recommendations, the survey process is now integrated with ReviewSolicitors to encourage customers to leave comments.  Firms are supported in developing the techniques necessary to manage these publicly-posted reviews and currently LawNet members dominate the rankings on the review website.

Also measured is the all-important indicator of whether a client would recommend the firm they have used to others and 95% of clients across the network say they would recommend the LawNet firm they used. 

Said LawNet chief executive Chris Marston:

“We developed our audited Excellence Mark because we saw client-focused service as the most important way our law firm members could add value and differentiate themselves, whilst retaining their independence, individual identity and brand. Six years on, the evidence speaks for itself.”

LawNet’s publication TARGETING EXCEPTIONAL EXPERIENCES: clients | employees | service covering the research and learning is available as a White Paper.

Regular client experience reviews are a requirement for all members, with independent researchers acting as potential clients to interact with firms. Researchers use the telephone, unscheduled walk-in, web contact, live chat, bots and out-of-hours routes to make their enquiries, with samples being taken across different departments throughout the year, equating to a monthly check-in, but avoiding any regular pattern that firms could identify and respond to.   Firms receive one-to-one feedback and in-practice training to support findings. 

Client feedback is captured through online satisfaction questionnaires, delivered independently through an online portal, measuring strengths and weaknesses, fee earner performance and overall satisfaction levels. While performance is benchmarked against fellow LawNet members and other firms taking part nationally, firms are offered increasing personalisation to enable tracking of specific issues and initiatives, including an option to share client feedback on the ReviewSolicitors website. 

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