A few years later, in December of 2014, I spent the afternoon with two law firm insiders who were in charge of strategic initiatives at their respective firms. Both believed in the importance of client feedback to not only enhance the quality of service but also deepen relationships with clients and build a path to more meaningful and sustainable growth. Yet, they expressed frustration at its limited value to drive firm-wide or industry-level change.
Here’s why. Imagine a large corporate client that uses 20 outside law firms. In most cases, that means that there are nearly 20 different ways that the client provides feedback. One firm sends the managing partner for an annual dinner with the general counsel. Another sends the relationship partner. A third sends the Chief Value Officer. A fourth has an annual client survey system, albeit only 30% of the in-house lawyers reply. Several other firms use a third-party service, such as Acritas, Wicker Park Group, BTI, or PP&C Consulting. And a surprising number of firms are content with feedback in the form of paid bills and continued work.
Virtually all of these feedback mechanisms are fragmented and lacking in context, making it easy for lawyers to rationalize away negative information. Under the best case scenario, only 20-30% of the total feedback time will result in significantly better performance. That means that 70-80% of feedback has zero ROI. That’s an enormous amount of waste.
Yet, what if clients took control of the feedback process? As my colleagues pointed out, if clients rigorously evaluated their outside counsel, the information would be too direct and specific to be ignored. Then we laughed at our Panglossian idea, “This is never going to happen.”