Turn clients into ambassadors
Good client care requires more than a policy to ensure complaints are dealt with appropriately: it covers all stages of a matter and involves everyone at your firm.
Many firms will have a client care policy in their office manual, which may say something like:
We try hard to provide an excellent service to our clients. We hope that we will meet or exceed clients’ expectations so that they will not feel the need to complain, but it has to be accepted that clients will sometimes do so, possibly because we have done something wrong or not done something that we should have done. Where this is the case and the complaint is merited, we need to take appropriate action such as offering the client an apology, a goodwill payment or compensation and learning from our mistakes.
Such a statement is great as far as it goes; but client care needs to be more than focusing on complaints if you want to turn clients into ambassadors who will recommend your firm to their families and friends. Lexcel v6 requires that the client care policy goes further than simply stating that clients should receive a high standard of service and covers the following (item 6.1):
a.how enquiries from potential clients will be dealt with
b.ensuring that before taking on a client, the practice has sufficient resources and competence to deal with the matter
c.protecting client confidentiality
d.a timely response is made to telephone calls and correspondence from the client and others
e.a procedure for referring clients to third parties
f.the provision of reasonable adjustments for disabled clients
You could use the Lexcel requirements above to do a proper review of client care. Starting with the first point of contact, what impression do callers receive? I phoned a firm recently to arrange an agreed training session. The conversation went something like this: ‘Good morning, can I speak to Mr X?’ ‘No, he’s at court this morning.’ I waited for an offer to take a message or help, and had to prompt the person quite hard before she agreed to do so. A partner at a firm using an outsourced telephone answering service at busy times told me he is embarrassed as it is so much better than his own staff. It could be worth doing a few test calls to see how your firm performs.
Ensuring you have the resources to take on a matter is essential if you are to avoid complaints or even negligence claims further down the line. It is also vital to keep new work coming in so that everyone is busy with the right quality of work. Regular reviews of cases taken on, workload and billing by heads of department and team meetings are the best ways to keep track of this. If there are issues, it can be worth adopting a sign-off procedure for new matters.
Keep the client updated
Legal aid firms are now offering a wider range of fee options to clients than ever before, including unbundled ‘pay as you go’, access to sources of credit and insurance products, as well as conditional fee agreements and damages-based agreements. Lawyers are frequently nervous about discussing fees, so it can help to agree a script that everyone uses and stick to it. This will ensure all relevant issues are covered and the client and firm can be confident that the best fee scheme is used for the case and circumstances.
Lawyers are frequently nervous about fee discussions, so it can help to agree a script that everyone uses and stick to it.
The Law Society’s practice note on client care letters (26 March 2013) suggests the following service standards, among others, as good practice:
We will update you on the cost of your matter [monthly, three monthly, six monthly, at agreed events].
We will update you on whether the likely outcomes still justify the likely costs and risks associated with your matter whenever there is a material change in circumstances.
We will update you on the likely timescales for each stage of this matter and any important changes in those estimates.
We will continue to review whether there are alternative methods by which your matter can be funded.
Many of the above points are hard-wired into the DNA of legal aid lawyers as they are an integral part of the legal aid certificate lifecycle. However, sometimes people forget that it’s important to keep the client in the picture as well as the Legal Aid Agency by sending regular update letters when applying for higher certificate limitations. ■