1. 1. Lack of sensitivity
  2. First of all, the condescending attitude towards the customer is jarring. The partner’s view of customers seems not based on a lack of sensitisation but on a conscious conviction. Unfortunately, such an attitude merely confirms the unflattering perception of lawyers that exists in a large part of the population. When I speak to lawyers, unfortunately I often notice that a sufficient sensitisation for the customers’ view is indeed lacking – regardless of whether these lawyers work in law firms, legal departments or public services. It is even regularly pointed out to me that lawyers don’t have customers but clients and that lawyers aren’t service providers. Well, customers beg to differ. And ultimately, it is their perception that counts if lawyers want to be successful.

 

  1. 2. Customers as petitioners
  2. The author of the above-mentioned article qualifies his statement by adding that if a customer had wanted something from him or his law firm, he would probably have already asked him for it. He appears to overlook the fact that customers do not grant law firms a right of first refusal. If they are not satisfied with the services of a law firm – which incidentally includes the lawyers’ conduct and their attitude towards their customers – they vote with their feet and move on to the next law firm without further notice. Or they do the job themselves, for by now, legal departments do most of the work themselves (keyword: insourcing), which is demonstrated by this impressive graph about the growth of legal departments in the USA (further impulses can be found here or here or here).

 

  1. 3. Expert trap “inside-out”
  2. Finally, lawyers behave like many other experts (doctors, engineers, etc.): they take a view which is primarily drawn from their subject-matter legal expertise, i.e. an inside-out view. Customers, however, assume that that they receive correct legal advice from them. Genuine customer focus, however, takes its bearings from the interlocutors and the customers’ requirements (outside-in view). Experience shows that this requires a certain amount of re-adjustment from experts in order to change old habits. However, if this new perspective is consistently implemented, customers will receive useful legal advice that can be directly applied in their entrepreneurial environment. There is no need to elaborate on what impact this will have on customer satisfaction and the related rate of recommendations.

 

  1. Result: lack of customer orientation as a killer criterion
    Finally, I’d like to relate a little anecdote from my own past, when I still worked in the legal function of an internationally operating financial service provider, where I also headed the panel of law firms. Once, when a delegation from a UK law firm visited us in order to offer their services, the senior partner opened the meeting with the question: “What can I do for you?” Only one single thought flashed spontaneously through my mind: if the law firm doesn’t know this already, I mustn’t expect any industrial knowledge or customer expertise. In the selection process, this deficiency is tantamount to a knock-out. As a customer, you have neither the time nor the inclination to “train” a law firm at your own expense before it can be of any help to you.

 

To return to the article mentioned at the beginning: should lawyers ask their customers what they want? Basically, no; we should already know. Customers assume this advance knowledge as given, just as they also expect correct legal advice. If lawyers don’t have this knowledge, or don’t have it completely, then they should of course ask. However, they shouldn’t always expect customers to pay for this time, too.

For strategically and commercially oriented legal service providers with a focus on customers and their needs, this offers a perfect opportunity to demarcate themselves against their competitors and to position themselves better or make themselves indispensable to existing customers. The market remains exciting.

Please note: lawyers from legal departments, law firms and public administration who are spontaneously looking for further impulses to improve their customer orientation may want to look at the executive education module of 19 – 23 September 2022.

Relevant executive education

About the author

Bruno Mascello

Prof. Dr. Bruno Mascello Director, Academic Director Law & Management

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