At the height of the Information Age and with the development of social platforms, lawyers are facing their customers not only as legal professionals but also as human beings. In this interview, Simon McCrum reveals the main secrets for lawyers to build a trustful and newfangled lawyer-customer relationship.
I greatly enjoyed reading your ‘The perfect legal business’ book. Quite a fresh look and a highly important message about client selection and engagement, as well as about client alignment. In your opinion, why do many great professionals fail to succeed once they underestimate the latter?
If any of your readers watched the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix recently, they will have seen a colourful, noisy, and graphic way the huge mistakes that many law firms make in this area. You had there incredible driving machines (equivalent to law firms) driven by amazing experts (lawyers) surrounded by hype and noise and partying and celebrations. That is how many law firms behave. But the mistake they are making is that they forget to look at the only thing that is important in this situation – the contact between the tyres and the road. Too many law firms focus on all the surrounding noise, and the design and beauty of the car and the power of the engine, but because they ignore the central, over-riding feature, and instead of the amazing engine making the business move forward, it simply goes into wheel-spins, where energy is wasted and progress is lost. Too many lawyers are doing amazing work on complex cases, but they are not extracting the correct value-based price from the client, they are doing lots of work but are not recording all the time that is being spent, and when it comes to billing the client, they do not bill all the time they have spent and recorded. Until the traction between the tyre and the road is resolved, the car goes nowhere. Until every lawyer in firm prices the work right, and does the work instead of leaving it sat on a desk because they are too busy, and records all the time they spend, and bills the client for all the time that is recorded – and then gets paid quickly – a legal business will be more about noise and about wasting energy than about progress and speed.
What can be the best competitive advantage for lawyers good at communication, and how to benefit from new ways of communicating?
Clients want their lawyers to deal with them in exactly the same way that they deal with everyone else in their life, namely by online chat, text, email, and WhatsApp. Lawyers can go some way to be flexible and to accommodate these wishes. However, in my view, lawyers have to make sure that all the nuances and ramifications of their legal advice are fully conveyed to their clients. That is best done by talking. Going forward, my view is that when it comes to communicating with clients, talking must not be overlooked, whatever “the next big thing” in social media is.
What is the most common or hidden challenge for the law professional in the era of digital transformation with regard to the lawyer-customer relationship?
I think the biggest problem here is the fact that many lawyers love writing long letters – or rather, dictating them so that someone else types them up. Long letters like that – or long emails – are good for unloading lots of technical legal information and are useful for covering your backside, but anyone who has ever been the client of a law firm will tell you that such long letters and emails are utterly useless and are often incomprehensible. They completely undermine the service that a law firm thinks they are delivering. Law firms in the digital age need to deliver a service that is based on clients “want” (i.e. talking with their lawyer) not on a law firm’s belief that long letters are wonderful.
As a lawyer and renowned legal professional with solid work experience both in the industrial era and the so-called data or digital era (that is evolving into the intelligence era), what are the top 5 competencies of today’s successful lawyers?
The Top 5 competencies are a mix of the old and the new. I put them in the following order: