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Legal Practice Management

Custom & Advisory: Trends in client feedback for 2022 and beyond

Eve Starks  Consultant / Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 6 minute read

Eve Starks  Consultant / Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 6 minute read

In this second in a 2-part series of blog posts, we look at what law firms' business development and client feedback efforts may look like throughout 2022 and into the future

As the pandemic forced businesses around the world to face a multitude of issues, ranging from employee safety to supply chain challenges, their outside law firms suddenly found themselves in particularly high demand.

This, in turn, compelled law firms— already facing their own challenges of lawyer safety and budget constraints — to recognize that this environment demanded a closer alignment with clients than ever before.

While sensitive to the already pressing demands on their clients’ time, the boldest firms resumed their formal client-listening programs as a matter of priority. This paid dividends, as it empowered advisors with a real-time review of their client’s needs and challenges.

In the first part of this two-part blog series, we reflected on what has changed in client feedback over the several months. Now, we look ahead to how client feedback will continue to evolve as professional relationships grow and change in the face of new challenges and opportunities.

What’s coming in client feedback

Client feedback programs are not an innovation in themselves; some programs have been running for well over a decade and are now well-established tools and intelligence sources. As these programs reach a stage of maturity, it is important for law firms to reflect on the goals of their initiative and consider whether the existing approach reflects the current strategic direction of the firm.

Client feedback can be gathered from a range of sources — in-depth interviews, post-matter or post-pitch surveys, key account management programs — each of which provides a unique insight into the firm’s performance and the priorities, challenges, and perspectives of its clients. At its best, a client feedback program will have a core client listening structure that is supplemented by additional activities to avoid stagnation and encompass as many aspects of the client experience as possible.

Increasingly, firms are looking to evolve their programs by introducing a new stream of feedback, such as post-pitch surveys, to the core periodic service reviews. Firms are also utilizing the client feedback interview model to explore new areas of importance to clients such as diversity, innovation, or environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. ESG alone has been cited as a high-to-medium priority this year by three-quarters of clients, highlighting the depth of opportunities for law firms to develop their understanding of this issue from the perspective of their own clients.

Client feedback: Census vs. targeted approach

A common question for law firms launching a client feedback program for the first time as well as for firms reflecting on the efficacy of their existing programs is, “With which clients should we be speaking?” The answer, of course, is “It depends” — mostly, it depends on what it is the firm is looking to understand from clients and the resource parameters within which the firm is operating. Usually, a census of the entire client base is simply not feasible and, indeed, would provide limited value in return.

Articulating the goals of the program is the first step to understanding which clients should be included. From here, establishing and adhering to a set of objective criteria for selecting clients to be consulted as part of the feedback program is a critical component for the success of the initiative. This objective criteria may include fees billed, industry sector, or practice area used — but also may cover more intangible criteria, such as clients targeted for growth or clients engaging with a strategically important part of the firm.

For a core client feedback program, achieving a diverse spread of client size (in terms of billing), industry sector, practice area, and geographical coverage (if applicable) will be important to ensure the results provide value across the firm. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to do this, so long as results and output are communicated in the context of which client group had input into the program.

As client feedback programs develop, firms should continue to return to the original goals that were originally established in order to assess whether these goals are still relevant or how they may have evolved. This part of the process is crucial to ensuring the program continues to provide the firm maximum value.

For those firms that have well-established programs in place, considering a targeted approach that focuses on a strategically important area of the firm or incorporates a key account management approach to survey a firm’s most important clients can go a long way toward creating an organic extension and enrichment of the existing core feedback program.

Client feedback as a client-centric initiative

Client feedback programs undoubtedly benefit both the firm and the client. First, the firm has the opportunity to hear candid feedback on performance and uncover potential opportunities to expand the relationship; then, the client is given the chance to shape the service they receive and influence broader firm activity to their benefit.

That said, many firms underestimate the extent to which an invitation to share feedback is perceived as a true act of partnership by their clients — or they hold back from doing more feedback as they worry about inconveniencing the client by asking.

In fact, analysis that we have delivered to our own clients from their individual projects in the past year has illustrated that clients are impressed by their firms’ commitment and bold approach in proactively soliciting feedback. Further, clients appreciate the implication that their views and business were important to the firm. This anecdotal evidence is supported by our wider Market Insights research which shows that inclusion of a formal feedback program can raise a firm’s share of client legal spend rise to 34% on average, compared to a baseline of 14% a significant return on investment for a structured client feedback program.

As we look ahead, we anticipate an evolution in client listening initiatives as those law firms with established programs continue to push the boundaries on how to build close partnerships with their clients. A tumultuous few years have proven that client feedback initiatives — while admittedly resource- and time-consuming — form a fundamental pillar of exceptional client relationship management.