Are you high quality? Really?

17 10 2010

The topic of quality of legal advice seems to come up a lot more frequently these days. Perhaps that’s a sign of a more competitive marketplace. Maybe it’s down to more discerning purchasers of legal services. Either way, the days when law firms could talk in general terms about providing a “quality service”, without any proof, are long gone.

I recall discussing the take over of the mighty Liverpool FC football club, with a U.S. Liverpool fan who is also an attorney. The subject turned to Slaughter & May, the law firm acting the club, and I assured my friend the club was in safe hands, as the name of the firm is synonymous with quality and the (albeit fairly brief) dealings I have had with them in my career had done nothing to change my perception.

The "Servqual" model does a good job in offering a framework to think about the gap between client expectation and management perceptions of client experience.

At first that got me thinking about brand, market perception, and the way firms communicate with clients and prospects, but a chance conversation with another senior lawyer about the nature of quality in law firms meant that this post took a different turn…..

My starting point was whether the word “quality” always has to refer to “high quality”.

In simple terms, I might not want to buy a Rolls Royce, and indeed if I choose to buy a mid-market family estate car (sadly representative of my requirements  at the moment!), then surely I am still entitled to expect a degree of quality.

The key point is that my expectation of quality will be different, but my perception of whether the supplier meets my quality expectations  will go a long way to determining what I communicate about my experience with the product (The “Servqual” model does a good job in offering a framework to think about the gap between client expectation and management perceptions of client experience).

This raises an important point. Taking the car analogy a step further, what if the car passed a number of rigorous production line checks before it left the factory, was subject to further inspection at the dealership, and then goes through a final barrage of tests before it is driven away. If those tests and checks are the right ones, and the product met the manufacturer’s specifications, does that guarantee quality?

The point I’m trying to draw out here, is that quality has both internal and external dimensions for lawyers, whether in private practice or in-house. Quality can mean different things to different people, and indeed can mean different things to a single person at different times.

For example, quality may mean technical excellence. It may mean a piece of drafting that simply can’t be improved. It may mean advice that is delivered with empathy and by a lawyer who genuinely cares about his or her client. It may mean some advice that is extremely commercial, and allows a business client to achieve their objective. Quality might have a compliance angle, in that the advice has complied with all regulatory or process requirements. Quality might mean not just meeting client expectations, but exceeding them?

One way of thinking about this is to start with CTQs, or “critical to quality” factors, which is tool from the six sigma methodology that is used to start an examination of a process by looking at what the client sees as the critical factors in determining the quality of the output (I wrote a bit more about this here: https://intelligentchallenge.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/delighted-by-a-lawyer/).

When it comes to quality, I would argue that clients are not the only stakeholders. Advice is also likely to need to meet certain internal thresholds and pass regulatory hurdles, irrespective of whether the client requires this.

Another angle to consider is the extent to which quality assurance in “hardwired” into your firm’s (or team’s) processes. What checks or audits are made during service delivery to pick up errors before they reach a client (at which point the error would become a “defect”)? Indeed do you know where errors are most likely to arise?

What feedback is taken at the point of, or after delivery, to investigate the client’s experience? While the net promoter score (“NPS”) metric is contraversial in some circles, many client focussed organisations in the corporate world (admittedly often serving consumers rather than business) live or die from their scores, but in my experience similar tools are not widely used in the legal profession.

“How was it for you?” may be a cliché, but understanding client expectations of quality upfront, and then asking directly for feedback as to how you did in meeting them after the event, can give hard data that offers lawyers a real chance to improve quality and to adjust/build processes to make these improvements permanent.

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Ever been delighted? By your lawyer?

13 04 2010

About to embark on a consulting project for a law firm, I was preparing the kick off session and selecting the tools I thought would work best for them.

Six Sigma, one of the leading methodologies for improving quality and efficiency has a core concept called “CTQs”; these are the requirements that are Critical To Quality. A tool to help evaluate these CTQs is called Kano Analysis. Essentially, a law firm will identify client requirements (ideally through primary research, although “Voice of the Client” programmes are still relatively rare in law firms), and rate them as (a) dissatisfiers; (b) satisfiers; or (c) delighters.

She's delighted, are your clients?

Dissatisfiers are the things the firm has to get right – the most basic requirements. Getting the client’s name wrong in a document is a pretty good example of not getting a dissatisfier right. Satisfiers, in contrast, are those elements of the firm’s service that can increase satisfaction depending on their degree. For example getting a first draft document within three days might satisfy, but getting it to the client within two days will increase satisfaction. Finally, delighters do what they say on the tin. These are unexpected service features that delight the client. Providing a short, “plain English” summary of a project document for the operations team at the conclusion of a deal (where this has not been discussed) is an example. Unexpected is the key word.

I think this is a useful exercise for law firms for a number of reasons. Firstly, and this may seem obvious, it makes us think about what is important for the client (ideally, by asking them!), not what we think is important for them. Secondly, it can help draw out client requirements that are not explicitly stated, which when identified, can help the firm provide a much better service.

However, if you only take one thing away from this, think about what you could do today to delight your clients. As a former in-houser, I can confirm that there are firms out there that do this, and it’s different from just going the extra mile or doing a really good job. In any walk of life, it’s good to be delighted!