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Designing the Law Firm of the Future
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Designing the Law Firm of the Future

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Good design sells. Design Gains Importance as Devices Get More Personal (NYT, 19 March 2015) focused on tech wearables. Principles for wearables, however, apply everywhere. Success requires ensuring such easy use that consumers become loyal users:

“In the case of apps and services that make design a top priority, like AirBNB or Uber, the entire user experience is considered. Those services make a complicated task seem incredibly easy, almost invisible…

Those services are beautiful, yes, but the real design victory is in carefully considering exactly how someone will want to navigate an app, communicate with another person or conduct a transaction…

That’s a big shift for the tech industry, which has long prized engineering acumen and product management. Employees with traditionally product-oriented roles might have to learn design, and new jobs must be created.” (Emphasis added.)

Big Law can learn lessons here. For “engineering acumen and product management” substitute legal expertise. See the similarity? Smart advice and good outcomes do not equate to a great experience.

I saw this recently in Small Law when I updated my estate documents. My lawyers knew my timeline and failed to meet it. With badgering, I got drafts well after the deadline. The bad experience started early: even with GPS, finding the office was nerve-wracking. The building number was well-concealed; seeing it made harder by the intense traffic of a busy intersection. How hard can it be to tell clients landmarks to find the right driveway among many choices?

In Big Law, partners recognize the value of design. They pay a lot for architects and fancy build-outs. Gleaming marble lobbies and museum-quality art testify to design importance. Oh, wait. Office design hardly matters to clients. Design that matters far more to clients is their experience dealing with the firm.

Designing the right way means thinking broadly about experience. Take another news item that same day.  Starbucks Lines UP Delivery Options (WSJ) explains Starbucks’ plan to test and roll-out coffee delivery. Delivering coffee is part of service design – the experience of interacting with Starbucks, not just of drinking the product. Industry leaders like Starbucks constantly seek new ways to delight customers. That’s what keeps them returning.

Continuing with the  food theme… My prior post, Big Law, Fast Food, reported that consumers increasingly prefer Chipolte’s fresh food over McDonald’s. I suspect, however, it’s more than food driving the shifting market shares. Am I the only one who links McDonald’s with hard plastic surfaces, garish colors, and bolted-to-the-floor seating? Chipolte interiors feel hip and welcoming, not soul-deadening. Customers don’t just eat, they consume an experience.

So too at law firms. If legal outcome is food quality, then the rest is the experience of getting it. Improving it may be hard but let’s start with funding for it. Consider the delta between what Big Law spends on architects and build-outs versus other businesses. It’s a big number. Have any firms spent nearly as much as that delta to re-design client experience? Firms likely would find ways to improve experience that matter far more to clients than fancy offices. (Forgive the poetic license; I intentionally ignore that fancy offices are for partners’ benefits.)

Though I regularly write about service delivery improvement, defining exactly what clients want is hard. I believe the Steve Jobs’ view that consumers don’t know what they want. But before we even get there, how about at least delivering what clients say they want. If the uptick in firms surveying and interviewing clients has changed client experience, I’ve missed reports of that. Surveys I see suggest GCs do not like the Big Law experience.

For more on this, consider  Jerry Riskin’s March 12th post, Does your Firm Need a Chief Experience Officer (CXO)?):

“Awareness among businesses of the importance of customer experience has never been greater… [by] the introduction of the chief experience officer (CXO) position to management teams – law firms can also improve their competitive advantage…
In most law firms, too, there is a greater emphasis than ever before on looking at legal services from clients’ points of view… many firms use a combination of metrics and intuition to guide and refine their efforts to provide greater client satisfaction.
Enter the chief experience officer (CXO), a relatively new position in many companies that is intended to focus exclusively on the entire customer experience…”

Accomplishing this might mean re-allocating some current spending. Top firms continue to bid up the price of talent, both laterals and new lawyers. They have also ramped up marketing budgets to gain share of wallet. Yet all that spending does nothing to improve client experience. Perhaps some of those funds would be better spent on improving the client experience.

Doing so will be hard. Firms continue to operate more for the benefit of partners than clients.  So the door is wide open to firms with the institutional insight and resolve to improve client service experiences, to improve design.

End Note: An attribute of great design is consistency over time and location. Achieving consistency in firms of strong-willed, artisan-owners may be impossible. Perhaps lack of support for non-lawyer ownership is motivated in part by a deep underlying fear: partners will lose their freedom to act as they will. Great client experience requires standards. And the history of standards in lawyer-owned firms is clear.

 

About the Author

Ron-Friedmann

 

 

 

 

Ron Friedmann  is a lawyer with extensive business and technology management experience.  He is currently works at Fireman & Company; where he advises lawyers and legal vendors on law practice and legal business improvement.

This article was originally posted on PrismLegal.com.

Ron Friedmann
Ron Friedmann

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