Service Design | Lawyers' Built-in Advantage


Lawyers and law firms are not taking full advantage of one of the most powerful tools they have over other lawyers and new legal services entrants – the attorney-client relationship.  Nobody in the commercial markets enjoys such a protected and personal relationship with their customers (exception perhaps in the healthcare industry).  Can you imagine if Apple or Google had such personal insight and it was impenetrable by outside forces?  To be sure they have knowledge of our personal lives, wants, and desires – but that info can easily be gotten.  Lawyers and their clients have a special bond.  It is this bond and the nature of how legal services are delivered today that the US legal profession is frankly completely dismissing as a core source of value and capital.

There are numerous reports of service failures and poor client experiences.  Corporate clients speak of inflexible outside counsel while seeking value and not finding it.   The general public both idolizes lawyers (the TV and movie versions (aka fictional lawyers)) and ignores lawyers in real-life – seeing no need for the costly and frustrating services of the profession.  Until that is they actually NEED a lawyer.  And then the client seeks legal services but they are generally unsure or distrusting of the legal system and lawyers' motives. 

What if lawyers could change the reason clients engage their services from NEED to WANT?

What if the experience of engaging lawyers was PLEASURABLE not FRUSTRATING? 

What if lawyers created their services not with the lawyer in mind but with the client?

Lawyers run the risk of thinking of "quality service" as being defined by pedigree, technical black-letter expertise, giving the “right answer," and confidence.  While these attributes are helpful they are not all that sufficient for creating a meaningful client experience. Nor are they all that different from what competitors rely on.  To truly create quality, lawyers must give purpose to how they engage the client and how easy it is for the client to understand, appreciate, and participate in the services.

As a lawyer, if this sounds like a bunch of “touchy-feely” nonsense, have you ever thought about why your biggest and most successful commercial clients spend so much capital on developing products and services that create an emotional bond with the customer?  Are P&G, Apple, and Mercedes fools? No they are smart because they know that what they offer is nearly the same as their competitors.  Therefore they seek competitive advantage elsewhere – in their service and in the customer/client experience.  If P&G can create a “customer experience” in the aisles of the supermarket – no lawyer has an excuse not to create a customer experience environment for their clients.  Especially when you consider the special and protected bond of the attorney-client relationship that gives lawyers the opportunity to gain empathy for their clients.  Lawyers arguably enjoy the most coveted and valuable client relationship any industry could hope for.

Welcome to service design.

What is service design? It is converting the customer experience into business value.  If your clients have a positive and, ideally, a meaningful experience in dealing with you, you will gain such benefits as increased work, reduced stress in the client relationship, increased productivity aided by client cooperation and understanding, referrals, and a more pleasurable work environment.

When you design a service, you build services based on genuine insight into the people who will use them.  Doing this helps create true value for these customers.  Designers make smart use of technology, people, and process to simplify complex services and make them more meaningful for customers.  Measuring service performance properly can prove that service design yields more effective use of resources – maximizing value for the customer and provider AND reducing friction in the relationship.

Here are more reasons why service design is deeply relevant to legal services:

1.     When law firms create no new services they will slowly decline and ultimately fail. This is not ALL law firms but many. There is current evidence of this already.

2.     Technology changes how and where services can be delivered and experienced.  Have you used Uber yet? Or how about TurboTax? For an example of this in the legal market, look at Clearpath Immigration.

3.     Many competitors to law firms (other law firms or new entrants) in the US and emerging legal markets like China realize that the service experience is key to growth.  BTW BigLaw firms like Skadden and Jones Day still excel at the client experience when compared to their peers.  So it does help.

4.     Service is being seen as a separate but integrated way of generating revenue as improved customer experience is directly linked to loyalty, referrals, and true differentiation.

5.     Good service gets high ratings.  This should be obvious in both recognition and value.

6.     Service design is not cost prohibitive and can be accomplished in a relatively unobtrusive efficient manner. This is not about armies of consultants training every employee how to be better humans. It is about unlocking the real value ($) in every transaction point of the client relationship.

7.     Our culture is only making the customer experience more of a critical factor for buying decisions.  Why is Southwest Airways so popular?  Their prices are not all that much cheaper and they are not as convenient as the majors.  Smiling and sense of humor = $$ for them.

8.     Service design done right is sustainable and repeatable meaning it is not a one time thing and can work to continue to create value for your firm.

Service design is a powerful and accessible tool for lawyers. It results in real value.  Dismiss it with ignorance or arrogance if you will but it would be a hell of a lot more fun to try it.  And win. How? By converting your special bond into business value.  Lawyers have a built in accelerator – they just need to use it.


Joshua Kubicki1 Comment