Interview with: Chris Hamer and Alan MacDougall, Partners
Mathys & Squire LLP | View firm profile
Partners Chris Hamer and Alan MacDougall explain how Mathys & Squire prioritises its client service and has adapted to clients’ changing needs.
How would you describe your firm’s client service ethos?
As a firm, we pride ourselves on our proactive, ‘can do’ attitude; when problems are presented by our clients, we strive to find a way to work around those issues to find a solution. We achieve this proactivity by becoming an extension of the client’s team rather than an external advisor. Our goal is always to work closely alongside our clients – particularly at the decision-making stage – to ensure we achieve an outcome that is beneficial for their business commercially, in-keeping with their business model and strategy.
One of our standout strengths in the legal and commercial advice we provide is that we not only present the various available options in protecting a business’ intellectual property (IP), but we also help to steer our clients in a recommended course of action; something that is only possible based on the trust we have built with our clients. They have confidence in making an informed decision based on our recommendations thanks to the strong relationship we have built with them over time, and the effective in-house service we provide through our ‘extension of your team’ ethos.
What are the key challenges you face to keep your most important clients happy?
We would argue that all clients are our ‘most important clients’ – whether a small startup or large international corporation, they are all valuable to the firm and we therefore tailor our service to meet their individual requirements. As much as a business is unique, so is its IP requirements, so we ensure that our service is suitably matched, with care and attention to detail to meet their commercial requirements.
It is important that all of our attorneys’ work, regardless of seniority, is carried out to the very highest quality standard, but one of the challenges we face is that our clients often want this exceptional service at a competitive price – and usually to a very tight deadline! We work to overcome this challenge through balancing the work required to achieve a positive result with an investment in both time and talent (internally) to ensure our teams are up to scratch in terms of meeting our clients’ demands. As a firm, we have the resilience to deal with the challenges surrounding tight and changing deadlines – we have developed our teams so that they are well-equipped to deal with whatever issues clients might ‘throw’ at us – even at short notice!
What would you say are the aspects of law firm service that clients value the most?
Clients who enlist a law firm’s services must be able to trust the team responsible for protecting their most valuable asset – in Mathys & Squire’s case, in the protection of their business’ intellectual property (through patents, trade marks, designs, etc). The consequences of getting such an important thing wrong are huge, both in terms of cost and brand damage, so clients are looking to law firms to offer a safe pair of hands.
What advantages does your firm’s size give you in terms of providing an effective service?
Looking at IP law firms specifically, Mathys & Squire is a relatively large firm, with around 200 staff. This size means we are able to service large portfolios consistently and have a more substantial infrastructure for processing and handling data compared to some smaller firms. It also means that we offer a greater spread of expertise and industry knowledge. How we differ in approach is our structure of fairly small teams, based on technical specialism. This enables us to offer the ‘best of both worlds’ service with a small, boutique firm feel but a large firm backing: we develop personal relationships between clients and individuals in our teams, but also have the benefit of being able to call on other teams from a range of varied specialisms as required by the client and their technical needs.
How do you assess whether clients are happy with the service your firm is providing?
We view all feedback from clients as a gift and use it both to improve and adapt our services as necessary. The firm is proactive in regularly seeking client feedback, both through day-to-day interactions with our contacts and through third-party formalised feedback surveys.
In the last year in particular, when face-to-face interaction has not been possible, we have worked to maintain our close relationships with clients through virtual mediums – i.e. emails and video calls. Our personal approach with our clients helps us to ensure that any issues are dealt with promptly in the moment, before they have a chance to develop into a bigger problem.
In recent years, many firms have shifted their emphasis from a practice focus to a sector focus. What impact do you see that as having had on the service law firms can provide?
In the last decade, we have seen convergence across a variety of fields, which in turn has changed the way firms’ sector groups are organised. Devices and technologies have developed in recent years, which require greater synergy between groups (e.g. in our firm we are seeing much more of an overlap between our electrical/engineering teams and life sciences/chemistry teams), when compared to 20 years ago when these practices would have been completely separate. We would argue that the move from practice to sector focus is client-driven. Clients want a legal expert who specialises in the same field as they do, so law firms such as ourselves have therefore structured our teams in this way to meet this requirement. For Mathys & Squire, this shift to a focus on sectors rather than practices has been hugely positive and has brought aspects of the firm closer together. It has helped us to identify new areas to market to, to build appropriately sized multi-disciplinary teams, and then attract new clients across these sectors.
Have you changed your approach to billing in recent years, and if so, how has that enabled you to provide a better service?
Yes, we have worked to adapt our billing practices over the years to meet the demands of our clients who are themselves met with management pressures – the most significant of these changes being the move to digital billing. In our efforts to provide flexible and high-quality service, we also offer bespoke billing for a number of clients to meet the requirements of their business structures. During the exceptionally difficult recent times due to the coronavirus pandemic, we have worked with our clients with reduced cashflow to budget and create flexibility in our billing process.
How has the success of other alternative legal services providers, such as Lawyers on Demand, Elevate and Axiom, changed the client service landscape?
We recognise that alternative companies such as these might be attractive to some clients as they are more likely to offer lower, more competitive fees. However, the advantages that come with engaging a larger, more traditional legal firm – which offers a broad range of technical expertise spread across a greater number of advisors – cannot be overlooked. In relation to our particular field of IP legal services, we would argue that these alternative providers have not significantly changed the client service landscape.
Flexible working has been another big trend in recent years – what are the challenges and potential benefits of new ways of working in relation to client service?
Our flexible working approach (which was in place before the lockdown measures were imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic) means that we are able to provide a more ‘on-demand’ service to our clients – our work is not restricted within 9-5. A benefit of our relatively large (in the legal IP market) firm size means that we have the appropriate resource within our teams to be able to stagger our work days without any negative impact on the client. In fact, this is often to the client’s benefit depending on time zones and their own working patterns. Regardless of our working hours and location (i.e. remote working), it is vital that we maintain our high standard of work. This is only possible because of the level of trust we have both internally (within our teams in effectively carrying out client work) and externally (based on the trust we have built with our clients over the years through our strong personal relationships). Again, our flexible approach means that we can offer bespoke working structures on a client-by-client basis: we don’t believe in a ‘one size fits all’ service.
Given the current challenges everyone is facing, what measures has your firm taken to ensure client service standards are maintained during the lockdown?
Since the first UK lockdown in March 2020, the firm has prioritised communication – both internally (through regular team and cross-team catchup meetings, as well as virtual social events) and externally (increased news alerts, the introduction of webinars, regular video conference meetings). As a flexible working firm, even before the first lockdown we had the necessary structure already in place to enable our staff to work from home, so when the lockdown was announced in March 2020, it was not a difficult task to make sure our entire workforce was able to work remotely at short notice. We have always had quality control procedures in place to ensure high standards of work for our clients, so there was no change to this offering when our workforce was relocated from our offices to their homes.