Most firms are just beginning to review their business development plans for the coming financial year.
A key part of this process should be looking at the journey undertaken by the client prior to actually making a commitment to purchase any particular legal transaction.
The Changing Legal Market
In the last few years the broad nature of that journey has changed significantly.
New entrants, including Alternative Business Structures and overseas operators seeking to gain a foothold in the UK, are entering the market as a result of the Legal Services Act.
The recession has also had a dramatic impact– clients’ expectations have risen dramatically, and some commentators believe it will be another decade before the level of fee income and profitability per transaction of the pre-2008 period is achieved.
In addition, in many case the expectation from the client has moved from a purchase based on hourly rates to a fixed fee arrangement, where there is certainty of cost and outcome.
In the private client field in particular, many individuals believe that they can undertake the work themselves because a lot of it is business process-based and help is only required for the legal aspects of the transaction.
Thus, the relationship with law firms is increasingly changing from being one of the total service provider to a part-service (i.e. legal service only) provider.
Who IS your client?
Understanding who the firm’s clients are prior to designing the client journey is critical. The days of law firms accepting any potential client who came through the door should be gone, although many organisations still ignore the risk associated with accepting the ‘wrong’ type of clients.
It is crucial to properly examine and consciously define the ideal client profile. This exercise should be carried out across individual departments and it is essential that the business development leader ensures that there is synchronicity and compatibility of client type across the firm.
This is the foundation of any successful cross-selling programme, and facilitates the correct allocation of scarce resources (both time and money) to the most appropriate opportunities.
The Approach Needs to Reflect the Changing Times
The traditional methods of business development were largely ‘scattergun’ in nature and relied heavily on brochures, swamped networking meetings advertising, as well as seminar programmes measured by the number of attendees rather than the success of on-selling services.
In the new environment it is critical that firms consider methods of promotion and business development that are much more targeted to their pre-defined ideal clients, and reflect the changing nature of their client base and the worlds that their clients operate in.
The firm should then be in a position to tailor the resources it makes available to meet the requirements of its clients at the appropriate place – be this through Google searches, hearing a talk, subscribing to a newsletter, reading an article, attending a conference or, increasingly, downloading a How-to or Tips booklet.
Beyond the first Contact
Undertaking client journey analysis involves mapping the whole process, from when the potential client might hear about the organisation's existence and capability, to the decision to select and approach an individual within that organisation with an instruction.
The journey should not stop at the point where the client walks in through the front door or sends that first e-mail. It should actually continue to ensure that:
• The client is properly dealt with in reception;
• Their emails are responded to in a timely and appropriate fashion;
• The conversations are properly directed;
• The client understands that the firm itself requires payment for its support; and
• The terms and conditions of this contractual relationship are clearly laid out.