Why Lawyers Never Learn Customer Service

By John Strohmeyer

Lawyers are highly trained specialists who work for years to gain the skills necessary to practice. In fact, the typical lawyer progresses from high school, to college, to law school, and directly into middle management at a law firm. But the harsh reality is that you didn’t learn much useful information from all those years of school (just ask any senior lawyer). After years of schooling, lawyers still struggle to learn the craft as new associates.

 

 

And despite all those years of education, lawyers never get any formal service training. While lawyers spend untold hours learning to practice law, they learn how to serve clients from senior lawyers who didn’t get much service training either. Put simply, they never receive effective direction in how to run a law firm, manage client relationships, or generally take care of people.

And lawyers have no idea that this is an issue. After all, they’re always head-down and working hard for their clients—as they should be—but that means they’ve missed the customer service developments going on around them. But how did we get here? Why are lawyers—who work in a service industry—so bad at customer service?

One reason is that lawyers tend to be risk-averse perfectionists. We work in a profession bound by precedent, so it’s no surprise that we don’t want to do something that hasn’t been done before. Blazing a new trail isn’t our new forté, we’d much rather follow a path that is well-traveled, paved, and lit. Law might be the one industry where originality isn’t a valued trait.. And because the changes needed to improve service are messy, many feel it’s easier to keep old service patterns, even if they alienate clients.

Another factor is that for years, providing good legal services meant delivering the maximum quality legal product for the lowest price. That pressure to minimize billable hours often meant excluding service measures like keeping clients abreast of what was happening and why. Those updates, after all, took billable time which lawyers either were not compensated for or had to pass onto clients, who weren’t happy with getting a bill for time spent that didn’t change the outcome of the case.

Put together, these incentives lead to yesterday’s idea of a “good lawyer” being one who combined high technical abilities with extreme efficiency. This was solidified by a lack of competition, meaning lawyers were under little pressure to deliver individualized customer service, even if the product was highly tailored to the particular client.

But delivering highly technical legal work on-time and under-budget isn’t enough any more. The combined pressure of too many new lawyers, access to basic legal knowledge via the internet, and automated alternatives like LegalZoom are squeezing the market. Lawyers can no longer rely on merely having a law license to get clients—we need to differentiate ourselves by providing a superior level of service.

So what does service entail? It’s all well and good to say that we need to be better at service, but if we can’t describe it in concrete terms, it doesn’t really matter.


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