Creating A Client-Focused Culture
Building a client first culture has become a key priority for law firms across the UK. Lawyers increasingly recognise that putting the client first is a necessary component for achieving future success.
What does it mean to have a client first culture?
At its core, it means putting the client before all other considerations – which is, of course, how all matrimonial / family solicitors should work. It means not shying away from process options that might take the solicitor out of their comfort zone if those process options would be best for the client, and promoting options which may generate less fees for the practice. It means putting in place structures which enable cost-efficient working. It means investing in training and being a ‘learning’ organisation, and investing in IT to benefit the client. It means referring clients to the third party who would be best for your client, and not to someone who you think will send work back to you.
How does FLiP promote a client first culture within the firm? And why is it important?
Taking these points in reverse order, it is important to promote and adopt a ‘client first’ culture because it is vital to acting in the best interests of your client, which is at the heart of our role as solicitors.
FLiP promotes a client first culture in a number of ways. It begins from the very start of qualification – newly qualified solicitors are encouraged to work in a way which best serves the client, for example to always think about how what they are writing or saying impacts on the client. Junior solicitors are encouraged to sign off letters in their own name, and not the name of the practice – doing this motivates people to take ownership of what they are writing and not hide behind anonymity. This also allows for careful consideration of the language used and the impact on whoever receives the communication.
Training and learning is at the heart of FLiP. Staff are encouraged to attend training events and as a firm host regular internal training sessions. This is not just black letter law – but what some call ‘soft skills’ and what we feel are better described as ‘essential’ skills.
We have in-house counsellors and therapists, so we can give our clients the additional support they may need and offer a truly holistic service. Most of our solicitors are trained to work in different ways, such as mediation and collaborative family law.
In order for solicitors to be able to best look after their clients, they need to look after themselves – FLiP offers confidential ‘supervision’ to its staff.
On a more practical level, FLiP thinks carefully about how the offices ‘feel’ to clients (we are often told they are calming) and we have invested in IT which streamlines our new client ‘onboarding’ processes (enabling new clients to provide a comprehensive overview of their situation, before a first meeting. This can be done in their own time, at their convenience and without the cost of a lawyer undertaking the initial ‘data gathering’). We make a point of including questions about the personalities involved, the client’s aspirations, and other helpful information, not just facts and figures. This gives a more ‘rounded’ and comprehensive picture of the client and their family.
We have also invested in IT to enable our solicitors to work efficiently, helping to reduce costs to the client.
FLiP champions out of court settlement and recognises that reported cases are not the end all and be all.
What suggestions do you have to help individual lawyers adopt this culture?
Training is key – and particularly on wider issues which relate to families and children. Mediation and collaborative family law training are very useful. Even if the solicitor does not go on to practice much in either, they help to develop all-round skills that are very helpful to clients.
More senior members of the practice should instil and promote a client focused approach, so that the culture filters down.
Writing letters in your own name helps to ensure you pay careful attention to the language you use when writing to others, which usually helps to keep the temperature down, which in turn benefits your client.
Settling cases should be applauded, so individual lawyers should be proud when they do – and they should praise others for doing so too.
What obstructions are there when implementing a client first culture?
Pressures of billing – the possible tension between, at one end of the scale, suggesting your client sees a third party for mediation and, at the other end of the scale, litigating.
The attractions of being involved in a ‘reported’ case. Sadly, the main legal directories still place significant (and some would say undue) weight or importance to reported decisions. However, this raises an interesting point: would clients prefer their case to have had to litigate all the way through to trial (and possibly appeal) to reach a conclusion, or would they prefer to reach a settlement out of court, which is usually quicker, cheaper, and less destructive to family relationships. Reported decisions are profile building, so a better way needs to be found to recognise the skills of successful out of court resolutions.
Costs – the cost of new IT systems and paying for solicitors to undergo training can be significant – the latter not just in terms of the cost of the training itself, but also the time spent out of the office when fee earners are not fee-earning.
What are 5 practical steps for law firms to implement?
- Provide and / or support training – particularly in the ‘essential’ skills.
- Instilling a culture which recognises the success of settlement over litigated outcomes.
- Putting in place effective IT which enables cost-effective working and working in teams so that more junior / less qualified staff can undertake appropriate tasks. The days of a traditional ‘secretary’ are gone – assistants / support staff can now often undertake work which used to be undertaken by qualified solicitors, at much more efficient hourly rates.
- Promoting out-of-court processes where appropriate and encouraging clients to obtain separate third party support and assistance where it would be useful.
- Look after its staff, so that they are best equipped to look after the clients and can provide the best service.
Daniel Coombes is a Director at Family Law in Partnership. Daniel handles a wide variety of family law issues, with particular emphasis on resolving financial matters following divorce and applications concerning children. He has a wealth of experience of high net worth and international finances as well as complicated children cases. Daniel is a trained mediator and collaborative family lawyer, as well as a determined litigator when required.