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The client experience: look beyond your legal skills

Clients only want one thing, says Russell Conway, but you have to make them trust you first

12 April 2019

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What do clients want and how do you make the client experience perfect? I have reflected on this quite a lot during my 42 years in the legal profession.

Obviously quite a few clients start their experience with reception. They may call in for an appointment or to arrange one. 
 
I expect some people drop in simply to see the cut of your jib and find out whether you are the sort of firm that can deal with their case.
 
For the last 13 years my office has been adjacent to reception so I have kept a weather eye on the comings and goings.
 
People don’t always know whether they need a solicitor, an accountant or a plumber. The wealth of new enquiries certainly highlights the lack of legal education in schools.
 
Clients sometimes have no clue about what they need. Do you really need a solicitor if your loo refuses to flush that weekend?
 
Or if you are offered an ‘investment’ in a piece of land in Bolivia with ‘guaranteed’ rental returns of 30 per cent per annum? 
 
But the trick is making the client feel comfortable and welcome. Having a safe space for children. Encouraging them to bring their dog into the office. 
 
Having a friendly face behind reception that they trust and will offer refreshment, tell them they can charge their phone and offer hints about where they can safely park their car. 
 
The next part of the journey involves the solicitor. This has to be somebody with expert client skills. Clients want wisdom and encouragement. 
 
And, perhaps most of all, they need to understand the advice they are being given. Understanding the issues certainly does not entail being referred to a never-ending list of Court of Appeal authorities. 
 
Clients tend to be quite direct. For example a landlord trying to get rid of a tenant not paying their rent, is only interested in the result. 
 
They want an order for possession. That is the number one objective. Equally if you are homeless and seeking accommodation from a local authority, the objective of using a solicitor is to ensure that you get a flat. 
 
Homeless people are not too keen on long letters of advice. They want a roof over their heads. 
 
Conveyancing is perhaps the best example of this. A couple wants to sell their flat and buy a house. This could be a very simple transaction or, as sometimes happens, it could become complex. 
 
There could be a very long chain, problems with an illegal loft extension or perhaps restrictive covenants that need removing. All the client want is closure. 
 
A good client experience involves the solicitor keeping the client informed at all stages. Importantly the solicitor needs to be proactive; don’t wait for the client to email you. 
 
Remember what is happening to the client is stressful, taking up a great deal of their time and most importantly they want the process to complete as soon as possible. So keep them informed, every day if necessary.
 
Enduring relationship
 
Finally we look at the end of the process. The part solicitors are not so good at: billing the client, closing the file and staying in touch with the client, and perhaps doing a spot of cross-selling. 
 
After all, everyone who gets divorced probably needs a new will? Billing can be a problem. But it should not be. 
 
If you have given a precise costs’ estimate at the beginning of the transaction there should be no surprises. Veering wildly off track from the first estimate will always initiate conflict. 
 
The end of the matter needs careful thought. You want to stay in touch with a client who will almost certainly want to use you again in the future. 
 
Clients want to feel wanted. They want a relationship with a solicitor which is enduring. I have had clients who have given me all kinds of work. They feel safe to email with a problem at 11pm on a Sunday night. 
 
One rang me up on Christmas morning. That’s because they feel able to do so and trust me to deal with their problems. But it all starts and ends with delivering results.
 
Russell Conway is senior partner at Oliver Fisher oliverfisher.co.uk

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