Byrne Inside Counsel, February 2000, pg. 5
Over the past
decade much has been written about the importance of the client
satisfaction survey to a law firm's continued relationship with
its clients. Used properly, the client satisfaction survey can point
out problems and strengths of the firm, identify new ways the firm
can work with the client and identify areas of future legal need.
The client survey has become one mechanism to assist a firm in creating
and communicating to its clients its value over other firms in an
increasingly competitive market for legal services.
departments are not immune to the pressures of competition from
external suppliers of legal services. During the '90s in both the
public and private sectors, the need for legal services has grown
while funding for such services has decreased. Law departments must
do more with less. The result has been increased pressure on law
departments to demonstrate the value they create for their organization.
Depending on the nature of the organization, outcomes of such value
analyses range from complete outsourcing of the legal service function,
to partial outsourcing (sometimes done within the context of a competitive
tendering process open to both law departments and external firms),
to the repatriation of all legal services to the law department
(complete "in-sourcing"). Under these circumstances, it is crucial
that General Counsel have a clear understanding of how the law department
contributes to the value of the organization.
is one element of value. Client satisfaction surveys can assist
a law department in measuring the nature and the degree of value
it contributes to the organization, and to identify other ways in
which it can add value. Apart from being a research tool, client
surveys are a technique to educate internal clients of the ways
in which the law department furthers the overall goals of the organization.
The use of a client survey is therefore as strategic as it is operational
(i.e. used for performance evaluation and management of individual
the Survey Process Strategically
The focus should
be on "the survey process" and not just "the survey", the latter
implying the written questionnaire. Effective strategic surveys
are not confined within the four corners of the document. Here are
some tips to assist you in making your client survey more strategic:
your survey as marketing in addition to being a way to gather
information. A questionnaire should contain, or be accompanied
by a statement to clients of your ongoing commitment to improving
the quality and value of your services to them and to furthering
the overall goals of the organization. Let them know you will
be giving them feedback on survey results-- and deliver on this
promise! Nothing undermines the strategic value of a survey so
much as failure to follow through.
- Before you
draft the survey questionnaire, bring together a focus group comprised
of members of three to four client departments, or at least ask
each representative for his/her input on what they would like
to be asked. This helps to achieve "buy-in" from your clients
in the survey process, and increases the likelihood of a meaningful
response rate. As well, it assists when drafting the survey instrument
by concentrating on aspects of service which are most relevant
to your clients.
the objectives you want to achieve in conducting the survey. A
written questionnaire is the most effective tool for collecting
primary data (i.e. rate of use of your department's services,
types of services used, types of services desired). If, however
you want qualitative, more subjective information on client satisfaction
or attitudes with respect to involving law department members
in non-traditional activities or decisions, personal contact with
your clients is the best way to obtain this. In this case, a written
questionnaire is just the starting point and should be followed-up
by telephone or face-to-face meetings to obtain the most meaningful--and
actionable--information on selected issues.
- Pay careful
attention to the wording and sequencing of questions. Use direct,
unbiased wording. Create interest in the leadoff question. Save
difficult or personal questions for the end. Organize questions
logically and vary the question format-- yes/no, Likert scale,
open-ended questions calling for an essay-type response (effective
for gauging how people think rather than measuring how many people
think in a certain way).
ensure that your questionnaire addresses the principal drivers
of client satisfaction: time, quality (of the advice and of the
relationship) and price (of particular importance to organizations
using charge-backs). Focus on the attribute(s) that clients in
various departments value most and weight your questions accordingly.
By selecting questions relating to objectives and measures across
these three drivers, General Counsel can direct their departments
to delivering superior value to clients.
A law department
that is prepared to initiate and act on the information that it
receives from conducting an effective client survey possesses a
powerful tool to enhance its position and value to its organization.