Interview with: Sharon Montgomery and Samantha Webb, Partners

Crane & Staples LLP | View firm profile

Sharon Montgomery and Samantha Webb discuss Crane & Staples LLP’s client service ethos and explain how the firm has continued to deliver exceptional client care during these challenging times.

How would you describe your firm’s client service ethos?

Client service is at the heart of everything we do at Crane & Staples. Our core values are: Excellence, Empathy and Integrity. Every member of our team knows that they have a role to play in providing an outstanding client experience. As an established firm for over eighty years, we have a great reputation locally and our clients have high expectations of our services. We work hard to exceed these expectations, so that clients, their friends, and families, can confidently return to us time and again.

Every client and case is different, and we recognise the importance of tailoring our approach to a client’s individual needs. Whether our clients are successful business owners, established local families, elderly members of the community or vulnerable clients in crisis, we go above-and-beyond to promote a warm and personable atmosphere. Whilst our legal expertise and technical skills help our clients to trust as lawyers, we also want our clients to trust us as people so they know their matters are being looked after. This is why we are so committed to delivering an excellent and well-rounded client experience.

What would you say are the aspects of law firm service that clients value the most?

Over eighty years, our firm has learned a great deal about client service and what our clients value in a firm. As consumers themselves, our team also recognise the key aspects of a positive client experience and apply these principles to their own work.

Of course, when a client has a legal matter, the main aspect they value is that the solicitor can successfully resolve their case. This relies on the solicitor to have the knowledge, experience, and legal skills to handle the matter. Beyond this knowledge, we believe clients are also looking for a harmony between speed and care. Undoubtedly, every client wants their matter to be resolved quickly, but they also want it done properly. At Crane & Staples, we focus on efficiency, so that we can complete matters in good time, whilst also being thorough and ensuring the work is done correctly.

We also know that clients value good communication from their solicitor. It is important for clients to be kept updated on the progress of their matter and receive clear and well-presented correspondence and documentation. Clients should also be confident that they can get in touch with their solicitor and talk to them about their case.

What advantages does your firm’s size give you in terms of providing an effective service?

Our firm is made up of seven Partners, seventeen fee-earners and twelve support staff. We feel this is the ideal balance of breadth and depth. This smaller size creates a friendly and communal working environment; we always appreciate when clients recognise the camaraderie between our team members, as this positive atmosphere affects their own experience of our firm.

Every team member has their own unique skills, experience and expertise and we value a team-approach so that these can be shared and utilised. Training and mentorship are also very important at Crane & Staples, and we have an open-door policy so junior team members can ask their colleagues for advice and support if needed.

The size of our firm means we all know each other’s strengths and how these can benefit our clients. Many of our cases involve cross-departmental issues, for example, property and trusts, business and employment, estate administration and dispute resolution. The strength and size of our team means we can refer to colleagues in other departments to provide a comprehensive client service.

We value our long-term clients, who instruct us at different points in their lives, on a wide range of matters. We are grateful that these clients have a positive experience with one matter, and this gives them the confidence to come back to us again for another case. Many of our clients view us as their family’s firm, and we are privileged that these clients choose to instruct us for all their legal matters in their lifetimes. We feel that our firm’s size offers clients this possibility because we can combine a warm and friendly atmosphere with an impressive depth of technical knowledge.

How do you assess whether clients are happy with the service your firm is providing?

It is important for us to monitor our service and check in with clients to ensure they are happy with us. We take the time to get to know our clients from the start of their matter and keep in touch with them throughout. This makes it easy for clients to tell us if they have any concerns. If clients do have an issue, we encourage them to tell us right away so that we can rectify it as soon as possible.

At the end of their case, we send our clients a survey, where they can assess the service provided, share their feedback and make any comments. These surveys are reviewed by the Partners. Our Client Care Partner makes the effort to speak to any client who has raised a concern in their survey.

We are active online and on social media and we regularly receive online reviews from clients. Again, we take the time to respond to all of these reviews so that we can act on their feedback and provide the best service possible.

We are fortunate and grateful that the overwhelming majority of our clients are happy with our service and this is reflected in our reviews and surveys. In 2019, 98% of clients who completed our surveys said that they would use us again and recommend us to others.

However, we are not complacent and we never take this for granted because we value the importance of quality and consistency in our approach to client service.

Given the current challenges everyone is facing, what measures has your firm taken to ensure client service standards are maintained during the lockdown?

Crane & Staples has recognised that working remotely presents challenges, mainly: 1) Ensuring that clients can still contact us, that we are still available to clients when they need us, and that we can still prepare and send out documents to clients in a timely manner; and 2) Ensuring that staff are working confidently and can get in touch with colleagues and managers for advice, assistance, and regular supervisions, as well as social contact.

We have continued to maintain excellent standards of client service by using technology to overcome these challenges.

Firstly, we are still available to clients when they need us, and they can contact us through a number of methods. From the first day of lockdown, all calls were seamlessly diverted to mobile phones. Our reception service continues to operate both during and out of hours. All staff have email access as normal. We also promoted contact methods on our social media pages: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. We linked Facebook messenger to our own website so clients could send us Facebook messages in a live chat, 7 days a week. We set up Google messenger so that clients could message us directly when they search for us online.

Our remote working systems successfully duplicate the exact set-up we have in the office, meaning we have secure access to our complete case management system, emails, dictation, and bundle software.

We already used an outsourcing company for the bulk of our typing work, so this was in place and our typing continued to be produced with exceptionally fast turnaround times. We were fortunate that we already had sophisticated software in place. During lockdown, these became more widely accepted and used. For example, we had PDF bundle software ready and this meant we were ready when the Court requested E-Bundles and we were using DocuSign to request digital signatures.

We were grateful that the postal service continued to operate, so staff members could safely post documents that could not be emailed, and these were received by clients in good time, just as before.

Regarding management and supervision, just before lockdown, we had invested in Microsoft Teams for all staff. We were able to communicate with each other through Teams meetings including video calls. Departmental and supervisory meetings continued to be held regularly, meaning all solicitors could ensure their work was overseen, could ask and answer any questions and could share and keep up with the latest advice and regulations.

Additionally, we set up various WhatsApp groups to ensure colleagues could keep in touch with each other, both for professional queries and for social conversation. The main benefit of this was to ensure client service standards were maintained and no staff member was left without appropriate support and supervision. A bonus of this was that the ongoing contact helped improve team morale. A motivated, engaged, and satisfied workforce produce the best standards of client service and we were pleased we could maintain this as far as possible.

Overall, we are very proud that our team adapted so well to the difficult circumstances and we believe we maintained our high standards of client service during this time. We are extremely grateful to our staff for their hard work and dedication, and to our clients for continuing to trust us with their legal matters during these unusual times. The lessons we learned during lockdown will continue to improve our client service in the future.