fivehundred magazine > Client Services > Never overlook the basics of client service

Never overlook the basics of client service

Marcello Floris, co-head of employment and pensions at Eversheds Sutherland in Italy, on the importance of managing clients’ expectations and utilising a common sense approach to legal practice

A law firm provides an array of services, ranging from consultancy to drafting of documents, to assistance in litigation, to name but a few. The reputation of a firm is deeply grounded in the quality of services it provides its clients. Many firms coach their partners on the notion of delivering excellence in client service, lest someone inadvertently overlook the basics. It seems therefore useful to summarise those suggestions as we at Eversheds Sutherland did in a recent partners’ meeting in London.

Management of client expectations is crucial. One basic tip is to advise clients in advance if you are not going to be available, so they are not surprised by your ‘out of office’ reply if on a deal or involved in an urgent issue. We are all familiar with pressure caused by client needs and this may help to mitigate it.

A further valid suggestion is to ask clients and learn how they like to work, along with when and how best to communicate: for instance, if your contact person always travels home at 7pm that may be a great time for a catch-up call.

Giving clients a team sheet and escalation procedure, and if a client does not set a deadline asking what they envisage may be a useful tool to avoid unwelcome surprises and disappointment due to longer than anticipated response time.

In today’s business climate, clients expect solutions that are practical and technically faultless. To achieve this it is vital to work closely with the client partners and account teams to stay joined up and better understand their needs. Having a thorough knowledge of the client and the sectors they operate in is also invaluable in addressing clients’ requirements.

It is recommendable to plan some time away from calls and inbox management to get through critical client work, especially that of drafting complex legal opinions or statements of defence, when maximum concentration is vital.

In terms of efficiency, doing what needs to be done once and well makes things easier and more productive for you and facilitates cost control.

Also, getting to know the technology, specialist assistance, and other solutions that the Big Law firms routinely have in place, provides help in getting the job done.

Always opt for solutions whereby you can achieve multiple objectives with one action: e.g. work from a client’s office, or join in a CSR activity with a client.

Using common sense aimed at finding an easier, clearly better solution is always a sound suggestion.

In managing teamwork, diarise deadlines for relevant team members who contribute to a certain piece of work, also think globally about how you set up teams, resource client service teams and matters. And if something does not work properly, tell someone and suggest what can be done.

When you have important things to do out of the office – this includes birthdays, attending a parents’ night or important social occasions – do explain and ask for help from colleagues or plan your day to manage expectations.

Regular interaction through in-person meetings will deepen client relationships and improve the overall experience.

It is always strongly advisable to look for solutions and ideas and be clear about what you need and expect and treat internal team and group members like a client when delivering work internally; respect other team members’ needs to profitably get on with work and speak with internal members of the firm in person wherever possible, are basic but helpful pointers.

As a final point, provide clear, succinct emails (both internal and external) with actions/key advice upfront. This is the crucial suggestion: clients are totally put off by long opinion letters full of case law references and jurisprudence.

Generally speaking, those who instruct a lawyer is required to take decisions in a short timeline, taking into account an amount of data and other factors, and do not have the time or patience to go through a lengthy, complex document, possibly written in legalese – they just want to know the best option and the relative risks and costs. All the rest is unnecessary and may be counter-productive.

Also in drafting defence briefs, being concise is always a winning choice. Judges spend a great part of their time reading legal briefs; thus it is easy to imagine how little they will appreciate long, verbose submissions.

Finally, requesting feedback from the client is useful for the purposes of honing performance – and it is also appreciated by clients.

All very simple advice, but it may be of use to review the various points from time to time.

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