fivehundred magazine > The client side > Breaking down barriers: client behaviour in the digital age

Breaking down barriers: client behaviour in the digital age

The certainties and confidence that law firms once had that their sector would not be challenged have
proven unfounded, writes Propero Partners
CEO Jonathan Phillips

One thing is certain, there will always be a need for legal services. Less certain, however, is the way these services will be bought and sold moving into the future.

As recently as the last decade, the weakening of the traditional partnership model combined with the advent of legal technology has given rise to a new and disruptive breed of law firm. These innovative legal ‘companies’ offer services at competitive rates by using technology to cut working time, reducing the need for a lawyer. What has led to this sea change? Clients.

Clients have gained unforeseen leverage over service providers in recent years, and the market has been forced to change accordingly. But what shifts in client behaviour should you be aware of when marketing your law firm, and how do you challenge them?

Clients are less loyal

Much like every other service provider, law firms are at the behest of the client. Firms can’t rely on the lifelong client-lawyer relationships of the past, nor can they depend on reputation or word of mouth alone.

Those methods won’t work anymore, because in a market with an excess of choice, loyalty is fleeting. Why should someone choose your firm over another often similar and equally qualified firm?

It’s crucial then that your firm differentiates itself from its rivals by carving out a niche. By using digital marketing as its tool, your firm must prove to prospects that it is the authority in its area of expertise.

By producing useful and relevant content using proprietary research, your firm will become a thought leader. And data, as you may be aware, is now what drives business forward.

The method in which your firm quantifies and qualifies its data is what your clients want. Clients don’t buy services anymore, they buy information and expertise – so providing both will bring them back for more.

“As ever, it comes down to price. This means that
future-facing legal companies using artificial intelligence (AI) programmes already have the upper hand.”

Clients want cheaper alternatives

As ever, it comes down to price. This means that future-facing legal companies using artificial intelligence (AI) programmes already have the upper hand.

An AI-capable firm can shave off many hours of expensive billable legal work. This means no more long hours of lawyers sifting through documents or reading and writing contracts. Now, the smart software does this instead, in a fraction of the time and therefore at a fraction of the cost.

Remember JP Morgan’s tech that extracted 150 relevant attributes from 12,000 annual commercial credit agreements — an equivalent of 360,000 hours work by lawyers — in mere seconds?
If a tech-savvy firm can do the work faster (cheaper), then as a consequence that firm will win more and more clients. Bad news for those traditional law firms that aren’t yet planning to take on machine learning.

Clients are self-involved and
self-sufficient

The modern client is from a generation that has grown up with marketing — constantly and consistently told what to buy, and which brands to aspire to. This means the client of today is both inured to intrusive marketing and discerning about which brands and services they buy into.

These clients want to work with firms that are at the top of the market, which will show their bosses and colleagues that they are cutting edge.

Consequently, they don’t care about you or your firm, or what it has been doing, so self-serving puff pieces are out. They want content with hard data and information they can use to look good.

And, you’ll need to send it to them directly, because, in the digital age, no one is scouring the internet searching for your website content. They’ll find data-rich content themselves on Google, LinkedIn, even Facebook!

By showing clients how your firm’s data and technology can benefit them — faster service, better accuracy, cheaper rates — rather than simply telling them you have it, will cement it in the minds of the modern client. They can then decide for themselves how to use it.

Clients have rising expectations

Everyone expects more for less, and the same goes in the legal sector. Not only that, the service needs to be faster, always available, and, of course, it needs to be personal.

Alongside the increase in online business comes an increasing dependence on speed — of transaction, of assistance, and of response — that clients are accustomed to.

Some firms are finding success by being available at a moment’s notice, giving 24/7 access with social presence once reserved for the consumer market. Even being available on WhatsApp, or its equivalent will become the norm going forward because the client will demand that level of personal, one-on-one service.

For better or worse, these changes in client behaviour have already changed the legal sector. The certainties and confidence that law firms once had that their sector would not be challenged have proven unfounded. And for future law firms and their lawyers, the onus for satisfying the client’s requests will continue to lie with them, and that how services are delivered rather than service itself, will become the focus.

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