When I auditioned law firms that wanted Procter & Gamble’s business, I always asked, “How does your firm manage quality?” However, I never received a satisfying response. The economy is changing that, and smart firms should be developing systems for managing quality now so they can stay ahead of the curve.
Although their demands for alternative fee arrangements gave clients some budget predictability, the continued weakness in the economy is pressuring them to go farther. Law firms’ improved efficiencies resulting from project management and other methods certainly help address some of their concerns, but companies simply have fewer dollars to spend on legal matters and therefore are less tolerant of poor outcomes and lost trials. The economy is making your clients more sophisticated in their demands for greater value from the dollars they spend on legal fees.
But law firm efficiency is so “2011.” Clients now want to be sure they get high quality for the services they buy from you. And as just reported October 1 in The American Lawyer, poor quality and service are major reasons why clients fire their law firms. ow.ly/e9xfV
Whether your clients are health care providers, manufacturers, school systems, or restaurants, they are accountable for their work product. Since they have methods in place to manage the quality of their work, expect them to impose similar accountability on you. (Remember how your clients’ purchasing departments got involved with law firms a few years ago by demanding RFP’s and negotiating fee arrangements? That’s when clients started treating you like their other vendors. They’re not done yet.)
To manage quality, law firms have to develop systems that go well beyond the hoary fallbacks of just hiring great lawyers and following their malpractice carriers’ requirements. There are as many ways to manage quality as there are to run a law practice, but every good system needs two elements: methodically building quality into your work processes and checking output for quality. While every firm I know does the latter, the big opportunity here is on the front end. Having systems in place to make sure the work is done right (or at least done better) the first time reduces wasteful revisions and rework, saving time and money for both you and your clients.
So what do I recommend? I have a number of ideas that I will share in future blog entries. They will be methods you can show your current and prospective clients to address their concerns about how your firm manages the quality of the services they pay for. These methods won’t necessarily be easy, but they’ll deliver more value than they cost. And they’ll help your firm compete better for the decreasing client dollars out there.
The key element in all quality control methods is your people. Watch this space for my next blog entry, or subscribe to my blog on the left side of this page. Or just call me, and let’s talk.