‘Innovation’ has undoubtedly taken the title of of one of the legal profession’s number one buzz words in recent years. Firms large and small are consistently faced with the need to upgrade, enhance or improve their processes, services and technology. Too often, however, the need to innovate is overlooked or misunderstood, with your clients often paying the price.
It was only a matter of time until the legal profession faced the pressure of a value-driven price model. Just as consumers have become savvy in their daily purchases, so too have they when it comes to professional services, and law firms aren’t exempt. While the ongoing debate between the billable hour and fixed billing continues, it is ultimately the value you give your clients that is a decisive factor in the success of your firm as a business.
There’s no doubt that most Australian law firms have been asked to consider the value they give their clients on several occasions. Despite this, how often have you considered what value looks like solely from the perspective of your client? The race to the bottom is not a race that any firm purposefully sets out to join. However, where value can’t be clearly demonstrated, this is where firms default to price as their competitive advantage. Similarly, if your clients can’t easily see the value in your services, they too will make decisions based on cost alone.
It goes without saying that the vast majority of law firms value their clients and the quality of service that they provide them. With firms more frequently competing for business (some without even knowing it), the need to give your clients clearly identifiable value has become a necessity. Your rates are competitive, your staff are experienced and your internal processes are comprehensive. However, this does not always translate to actual value in the eyes of your clients.
What does providing your clients with value have to do with the buzz of innovation though?The ability to deliver tangible value to your clients should not be overlooked. After all, if you yourself were comparing two service providers, it’s the value they give to you, not their seamless internal processes or competitive rates alone that will get you over the line. How can you ensure that your firm is always kept front of mind, is always the subject of referrals and is always the subject of repeat business? It starts with providing solutions that give your clients legitimate value, or ‘something more’. Often this is something that few of your competitors could lay claim to.
While flexible working conditions have been touted by the profession as a way to attract and retain staff (and rightly so), flexibility is not just for lawyers. How often have you considered providing flexible arrangements for your clients?
Providing flexible arrangements for your clients is one way your firm can not only make use of innovative thinking, but innovative technology as well. A common complaint of law firm clients is the inflexibility around actually receiving the services they require. With appointments often set strictly within business days and hours, many clients struggle to reach vital meetings.
Many micro law firms have already started to combat this complaint. By providing alternate appointment times outside of traditional business hours, firms are able to engage with their clients far easier. This also minimises the struggle of back-and-forth e-mails and telephone calls. The benefit here is two-fold, giving both lawyers and their clients the opportunity to work flexibly and balance their commitments. Similarly, many firms have also made video conferencing common place not only between staff, but with their clients. Offering alternatives like this is a simple way for your firm to adopt an innovative approach to client service.
Before reaching the appointment itself, clients are faced with the hurdle of scheduling a meeting with a lawyer, with rescheduling even more difficult. It’s easy to see how this process can be likened to a game of Tetris for the client and firm. While there are countless ways to book an appointment, will any of these provide your client with a direct benefit, one that they see as adding value to your services? This is a prime example of where innovative technology can be employed to not only benefit your firm’s processes, but your clients as well. Imagine the convenience your clients can benefit from when they schedule their appointment online based on your availability. In the lead up to their appointment, they also receive a reminder e-mail and text message, minimising the risk of a no-show. Should your client need to re-schedule, they can easily amend their appointment online. Technology like this that enhances a firm’s approach to legal innovation is already available.
Collaboration with your firm shouldn’t be difficult for your clients. Providing or even signing documents shouldn’t require your clients to jump through hoops with back and forth e-mails, appointments our countless forms. It’s small processes like these that are often overlooked by firms as an opportunity ripe for innovation. Does your firm have a single, secure online location where your client can upload documents directly to their LEAP matter from the convenience of their home or mobile device? Being able to offer your client tangible convenience like this is an easy way to convey the value of your services. Not only does it give your clients convenience, it also provides transparency and accuracy when you can easily check whether your client has viewed or signed a document.
Legal innovation shouldn’t be pushed by the wayside as something non-essential or an unnecessary extra. Nor should it be seen as a mere aspiration or buzz word. If innovation is intrinsically linked to providing your clients with genuine value, then it can become not only highly desirable but highly attainable for any firm. Legal innovation should not be seen as an end goal, but rather an ongoing mechanism that prompts you to add value to your client services.