April 02 2021

Towards client-centric legal services

Marco Imperiale

In the post-COVID era, clients are starting to change their approach in regards to the legal services. One of the ways is developing a new kind of relationship with lawyers and law firms, that are becoming more oriented to the client and focused on the added value provided. In this short article, Marco will introduce some simple tools to understand better clients' perspective and thoughtfully face clients' needs.


One of the elements I do like about legal design is its customer-centric focus. Our clients are used to watch movies on Netflix, take Ubers to move, buy products on Amazon. All these services start with the customer and not from the seller. And this is the main reason for their success. Whether we like it or not, clients are starting to adopt the same approach with legal services.

The concept of tailor-made advice is a mantra for every law firm, yet – despite many efforts – there is still a long road to walk. For these reasons, I thought about mentioning four simple tools to strengthen relationships with clients, redefine our added value, and discover what our clients really need.

  • Surveys. A very common source of feedback, and also a very rewarding one. It is surprising how much they are still unknown in the legal world. Maybe it’s because of our willingness to consider legal services different from other kinds of services (sometimes they are). Maybe because of fear of negative feedback. Maybe it’s because we think it’s bothering our clients (spoiler alert: most of the times is the opposite). However, and despite the reasons, surveys - if well managed - are a great tool, and in my experience, results are always worth a reflection;
  • Listening sessions. Most of the lawyers are used to networking. It is our DNA, our breathing, sometimes one of our favorite activities. And we talk a lot (maybe too much). Listening session is a precious tool for serial networkers. We ask a client for in-person feedback, and we listen. For a long, predefined time. No questions. No brochures. No packages to sell. Just pure listening. Maybe we will understand clients’ needs in a different way, and we will know more about how to improve our services. Like every skill, is tough to manage, but it does work;
  • Empathy Maps. How much do we know about our clients? This is a core question. Because it affects the message we send. And it starts with the well-known advice that is repeated in every negotiation class: “wear the other party’s shoes”. Does our client prefer emails or WhatsApp messages? Calls or in-person meetings? Short or long memos? All these questions, if well answered, can determine, from the clients’ perspective, a better, more informed service. The empathy map is a step further. It means creating a canvas (a simple visual) adopting a full-rounded perspective for a specific client: what are her fears? Her needs? Her concerns? What is her favorite motto? The time we spend on this activity is not lost. It is earned.
  • Collaboration. As lawyers, we tend to consider clients as the end of a chain. However, it is surprising how many times we can collaborate with them. It can be for a “pro bono” activity or an association that we decide to start together, but also for a brainstorming session about a difficult business decision. Lawyers are not only paid for high-quality legal advice, which is most of the times expected (and I would say replaceable). They are paid for the trust they inspire. Paradoxically, an economic crisis is a great way to strengthen the relationship with them. If we pass through difficult times together, it’s highly probably we’ll share a wonderful path in the future.

I believe the next few years will bring a new set of values. Maybe because of the long thinking sessions during the pandemic, or maybe due to a redefinition of priorities in the “new normal”. In the last few years, always more in-house counsels and foreign colleagues started asking me about sustainability strategies, diversity programs, opportunities for young practitioners. How we integrate, as a firm, welfare programs and innovation in our daily work. All these elements require long time planning, internal discussions, and a well-defined roadmap. Sometimes, they also imply investing a significant amount of time and money in specific projects. But it is the only way to survive in an always more competitive scenario.

Maybe the best way to connect all the dots, as lawyers, is starting to challenge ourselves and the status quo. The world is asking lawyers to be more proactive, client-focused, and collaborative. Will we be able to face this difficult challenge?

Article author:
Marco Imperiale

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