The Days of the Mercurial Lawyer Are Over

By John Strohmeyer

You may not have noticed, but the market for legal services is shifting. It’s not just that every year, law schools graduate more young lawyers looking for billable work. The internet has democratized information (but not knowledge), and potential clients are a few clicks away from finding what they think is the right answer to any legal question. If that weren’t enough, companies like LegalZoom are providing low-cost solutions to problems that lawyers get paid to solve. These combine to form the larger trend: the market for legal services is undergoing a dramatic transformation, and soon you’ll be forced to transform with it.

 

 

Before beginning my legal career, I spent my first career working for the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, including serving as the Night Manager of the Austin property for three years. After years of consistently delivering and improving service delivery for the company that is the standard for service, my standards for great service are necessarily higher than most people. I left the hotel not because I didn’t want to serve others, but because I wanted to serve in a different way. By being a lawyer, I could provide better services to my clients. I’ve observed the legal practice from the inside, and my higher standards allow me to evaluate what lawyers do in the context of the shifting market, and I can tell you exactly how to deliver the kind of five star service today’s clients expect.

You’ve probably noticed this shift already as you deal with other service providers. What you considered acceptable service years ago no longer meets your minimum standard. As other businesses have gotten better, you as a customer have raised your standards as well. For example, banks were only open Monday to Friday, from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Now, many have extended their hours to include Saturdays, and you can access your accounts online 24 hours a day. These days, you probably wouldn’t accept a bank that didn’t provide online access.

And your standards as a customer aren’t the only ones that have changed—your clients are raising the bar as well. Just like the banks, they now expect you as their lawyer to deliver more than you did in the past.

Clients aren’t interested in the old way, when lawyers did things in their own time with minimal input from or check-ins with the client. The old days—when lawyers could afford not to think about how they treated their clients—are over. Today’s clients have a choice, and are demanding something that’s sorely lacking in most legal services: namely, service.

You might think law is different from other businesses, so it’s not necessary to focus on service. If so, that’s fine. The rest of this is not for you. But for the vast majority of lawyers, customer service will make a dramatic difference in their practice.

Lawyers are in the service business—whether you want to admit it or not. Clients come to you for you, not merely because of the services you offer.  Therefore, it’s up to you to embrace the fact that your services are ultimately fungible, and you should do everything in your power to get and retain every client you can.

“But I’m great at what I do!” you say. Yet realistically, only one or two firms can dominate the rankings in each practice area. The fact is that most of us do fine, competent work that’s ultimately indistinguishable from what’s done elsewhere.

So if delivering a top-quality legal product is merely table stakes, law firms need something else that sets them apart from the rest of the market. And if that difference isn’t going to be practical, it must be personal. By serving clients in a way that makes them feel comfortable about you as a professional and as a person, you can better weather the coming changes.

The service experience you deliver will guide your clients as to what level of care they can expect, and justify what they pay you for those services. And the better they like your service experience, the better they’ll like you.

So what are you going to do, now that the old standards aren’t enough? For those who can’t coast into retirement on legacy clients, the change won’t be pretty, and it won’t be easy. There will be casualties.

But Five Star Counsel is here to ensure that your firm will not one of those left behind. Because as a practicing attorney, and the former night manager of a Four Seasons Hotel, I can tell you exactly how to deliver the kind of five star service today’s clients expect.


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