Is this the legal service model of the future?

Dit interview is een blogpost van Clocktimizer, een award-winning startup die big data toepast op de juridische sector. Klik hier voor het originele artikel.


In this week’s series of blogs, we are examining the client/lawyer relationship. Our first blogs looked at the state of the current relationship and the changes it has undergone in recent years. Since the 2008 crisis, law firms have seen counsel increasingly turning in-house in a bid to cut costs. This has led to a shift in the power balance in favour of General Counsel, who are demanding more efficiency and better service from their lawyers. But what can lawyers do to offer this value? In our second blog I talk to Arnold Birkhoff and Erik Eversdijk of Dutch law firm Kneppelhout & Korthals Advocaten. Their innovative client centric services model is seeking to meet the challenges facing lawyers in 2017. Namely, how to keep your clients happy?

Kneppelhout Korthals – a client centric approach

“Fear of the unknown is the biggest barrier to change in a law firm” 

This sentiment voiced by Arnold, Voice of the Customer at Kneppelhout Korthals, is one echoed by General Counsel and lawyers alike. The increasing power enjoyed by Counsel has led many lawyers to question how they can ensure their firm’s legacy. How do you instill client loyalty, meet your client’s needs and innovate all whilst continuing with the day to day demands of legal advice? Well, by understanding what your customer needs, argues Arnold. “We want client satisfaction to be in the DNA of our firm.” 

If you visit the firm’s website, you are immediately aware that their client-led approach is not only highly proactive but completely transparent. Over a period of six years, Arnold has led the drive to ensure a continuous feedback loop for their customers in the form of client surveys. These surveys are sent out to all clients, both after a matter is completed and also on a yearly basis. They then publish (be they good or bad) the surveys on the company website.

Needless to say, there was a lot of resistance in the beginning.

”It was a slow process to begin with. We started the surveys only for labour law, which is my practice group. It took about two to three years before we got the whole firm to come on board,” says Arnold.

The motivation for the departure from a traditional legal services model was in part down to the rise of technology. Technology has brought upheaval to lawyers, making it the work of minutes to build a contract or find an alternative adviser. In the opinion of Arnold, the best way to retain clients and avoid obsolescence is to first identify your client’s needs. You can then use this information to meet those needs in a targeted way, be that through technology or otherwise.

Meeting the next wave of client demand

The core aim, then, is to build a relationship where risk is shared. This attitude also borrows heavily from Erik’s many years of experience in recruitment. Erik Eversdijk is the firm’s Business Manager, a highly client focused role in contrast to the more traditional Business Development position. Erik ensures clients are regularly contacted even if there is no work on the horizon. He has driven a move to conversations which begin with the client’s wishes rather than by pushing the firm’s solutions on them. And this approach is paying off.

“I once called a client to follow up on how his meeting with one of our lawyers had gone, whether he was satisfied with the firm’s service. He was in shock. Apparently, he has never had a follow up call like that from his lawyers before.” Erik Eversdijk

Moving forward, the benefits of following this system are clear.  Kneppelhout is now in the enviable position of knowing what their clients want, and what they can do to improve. The most common request for improvement from their clients, and one we hear frequently at Clocktimizer, is for increased billing transparency. As we have seen with Deutsche Bank, clients are pushing for complete billing oversight. More worryingly for lawyers, they are refusing to pay where they cannot identify value.  They want to know who is working on which matters for them, in real time. Technology like Clocktimizer is built to meet this need, and Kneppelhout’s feedback loop mean they can determine exactly what impact it has for their clients.

Client feedback as strategic advice

70% of firms in the recent Altman Weil survey reported a drop in demand as a result of counsel turning in-house to solve their own problems. Thus, firms must offer more than ever to ensure an ongoing supply of work. The only way to achieve that in a rapidly changing legal market is to ensure that you know what your clients want, and deliver that. Lawyers must offer increasing value to justify their fees and the market for commodity work is disappearing. But lawyers need not face this change with uncertainty.

Examples like Kneppelhout show that once the initial fear of the unknown is overcome, the impact of client focused service delivery is clear. Clients are more loyal, more satisfied and applaud the increased transparency. Rather than suffering a slew of negative reviews, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Indeed, it has proven a boost to those working at the firm. As Casey Flaherty recently noted, client relationships today are “often too transactional and almost antagonistic.” Learn to put client wishes at the center of your business strategy, however, and you stand to benefit for years to come. As Arnold points out:

“We are delivering services. There is only one person that has to be satisfied and that is the client”

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