A common theme among innovative lawyers is they care deeply about better serving their clients and improving the client experience. They understand what their clients want from a lawyer. These legal innovators learn this by regularly speaking to their clients and asking questions and getting feedback. They use negative or constructive feedback as fuel to get better. They use this knowledge to create client-centric business strategies, and then identify how they will use technology to help them achieve those strategies.
One way legal innovators get meaningful client feedback is setting up a Client Advisory Board.
What is a Client Advisory Board?
A Client Advisory Board is a focus group of your law firm’s clients that meets on a regular basis. The purpose of this Board will depend on what you want to achieve, but it could be to get client ideas and feedback to assist with the firm’s strategic planning process.
How many clients should be on your Client Advisory Board?
6 – 8 Board Members is a manageable size.
Which clients should you invite?
Carefully selecting your Board Members is important as their comments will influence your firm’s decision-making going forward. Consider the following when choosing your Board Members:
- Include clients that reflect the type of client you’d like more of
- A diverse range of skills is important, so consider clients with expertise in finance, technology, sales, marketing, human resources, or customer service
- Include a client who is very positive about your firm and life
- Include a client who is regularly exposed to risk, like a financial adviser, surgeon, or professional director, who will act as your reality check
- Include clients who you know will provide upfront and honest feedback
How do you invite clients to be on your Client Advisory Board?
The best way to invite your clients to be on your Client Advisory Board is to phone them. Prepare the following information beforehand so you can share it with them on the phone:
- A clear purpose for the Client Advisory Board
- Explain why having a Client Advisory Board is important for your firm and how passionate you are about this
- How often the Board will meet, where and for how long – you will need to be respectful of your clients’ busy lives and commitments when deciding this
- How you think each particular client will add value
Don’t forget to request permission from each client to add them to group communications for the Client Advisory Group. You will need to be careful of your confidentiality obligations, and let Client Advisory Board members know that if they want to share feedback that would involve divulging information related to a confidential matter then they should do that privately with just you.
How do you communicate with a Client Advisory Group?
You can use email or set up a group on Slack, LinkedIn or Facebook to communicate with your Client Advisory Board. You can use Doodle to efficiently schedule meeting times that suit everyone.
How often should you hold a meeting?
This is completely up to you and will depend on what is appropriate for your law firm. Here are some examples:
- One lawyer I know holds dinner meetings at a restaurant for his Client Advisory Board about once every four months.
- Another lawyer I know gets her Client Advisory Board together once a year for a weekend brunch.
- Another law firms meets with their firm’s Client Advisory Board on a “as when needed” basis, so if the firm is looking at say launching a new service or opening another office in another city they will meet with their Client Advisory Board to get specific ideas and feedback.
What questions should you ask?
At the first meeting you will ask more general questions about the client experience you deliver and how that can be improved. Over time you will dig into specific strategies and problems your firm has so you can get the Client Advisory Board’s ideas and feedback on how to achieve or solve them.
Use open ended questions as much as possible. A lot of the questions you ask will require some follow up – if you get an answer to a question that you don’t understand or need more detail, make sure you ask follow up questions to draw out all the information you need.
Here is a list of questions to choose from to get you started for your first one or two meetings:
- Can you give me some examples of what am I doing well?
- How can I improve my service to you?
- How have you been disappointed with my service?
- What was it like to first become a client of our firm?
- How can we improve our new client onboarding process?
- Are there other value added services I should add to my business model?
- What do you think of my firm’s pricing?
- Would you be interested in being on a subscription payment model?
- What services, products and resources would you like included in a subscription model?
- How can I meet your legal needs online?
- Are there parts of legal work you would like to have done online without any interaction with us?
- What do you think of the language I use when speaking and in written communications? Can you always easily understand me?
- What do you think of our firm’s website? How can we improve it?
- What sort of information do you want to see on our firm’s website?
- What do you think of our firm’s blog / newsletter? How can we improve it?
- Are you interested in hiring me/my colleagues for certain projects at lower hourly rates? What sort of projects? How often?
- How can we use technology to serve you better?
- What strategies in your company’s strategic plan can we help you achieve? How can we better partner with you as a trusted adviser?
- Do you have enough access to the legal information and documentation we hold for you?
- Do you know about all the services we offer? Please review our list of services so you can better answer this question.
- What do I need to do to earn a 10 (perfect score) on my client survey?
- How do I set myself apart? How can I set myself apart to become more referable?
- How do you think I can get in front of more clients like yourself?
- What type of firm events would you be most interested in attending?
- How do you find the experience of scheduling a time to see or speak to me?
- How do you prefer to conduct meetings: face-to-face, telephone, videoconference, or a combination?
- How do you feel about being interviewed by an interview / chat bot?
- Do I need to attend each meeting or are you comfortable meeting with one of my colleagues?
- Would you prefer to be able to DIY more of your legal work? In what way?
- What type of relationship would you like me to have with your other professionals, for example, accountant, bank manager, other lawyers etc?
Who should facilitate the meetings?
Having an independent facilitator is a good idea – it will let you concentrate and engage with the Client Advisory Board, and you won’t need to worry about what the next question is. Consider asking someone who has experience running focus groups or planning meetings. A good facilitator will know how to frame your questions and how to follow up to draw out enough valuable feedback from your clients. The facilitator will also help you set an agenda before the meeting, will make sure your meeting sticks to the schedule in the agenda, and will take notes.
What do you do after a meeting?
Often these meetings will be held over dinner, lunch or brunch, and for the price of the meal you will gain so much valuable insight to help you with your law firm. In addition, send a personal email or note to each client to thank them for the value they have added to your business during the meeting, along with a summary of the discussion and the most important ideas discussed at the meeting. Let them know what you will work on as a result of the meeting. You might also like to consider giving each client a gift like a voucher, a book, a bottle of wine or a donation to their favourite charity.
Then you need to act on the ideas and feedback that come out of the Client Advisory Board meeting. This valuable information needs to be considered as part of your strategic planning and review process to improve your firm’s client experience, and discussed with your team so they are on board.
In future Client Advisory Board meetings it is a good idea to include an agenda item where you report back to the Board on issues, ideas and feedback you said you would consider, and action you plan to take. If you decide not to take action on a particular issue or implement an idea, explain why.
Having structured discussions with a Client Advisory Board on a regular basis will help you to significantly improve the client experience offered at your firm. This will increase client loyalty and retention, referrals, and help you acquire new clients who you like working with. Keep in mind the tips above, and you can make sure your law firm and your clients receive the valuable benefits of a Client Advisory Board.
Keen to find out how former Solicitor-General of New Zealand, Michael Heron QC, is using intelligent automation to improve the client experience? Michael is the founder of CODR, an online dispute resolution platform, that uses Automio to improve access to justice. Check out Michael’s story here.