I always enjoy reading content authored by Paul Hajek, who has a similar outlook towards legal practice and a great sense of humour (which some may argue sets him apart from many lawyers !)
Paul recently contributed to an interesting article in the Solicitors Journal about deregulation of legal services and how solicitors might be able to differentiate themselves from unregulated will writers or Alternative Business Structures. Paul makes a good point about client care standards as a differentiator.
The unfortunate reality in my experience is that clients simply don’t understand client care or differentiators and it’s up to solicitors to ensure they do – not least aspects of client care which should be marketed as clear differentiators, especially from unregulated services, whether will writing or the many legal document providers online.
Client care – customer service ?
The very term client care is somewhat odd – does it mean “you’re a client and we really care about you” ? – that might seem pretty cheesy. It’s not a phrase used by many, if any, other types of businesses other than lawyers and doesn’t seem to merit a wikipaedia entry or dictionary definition.
A typical scenario is that a solicitor will first mention client care when the potential client indicates they are interested in instructing – “we’ll send you our client care letter today” is usually the line trotted out. I imagine that most clients don’t really know what that means and assume it’s terms and conditions.
Client care is not synonymous with client service, although it incorporates service.
Most client care letters explain how the lawyer will charge, what the client must do and refer (as is mandatory) to a complaints procedure. Over and above that not much else.
So what does client care mean and why is it important ?
The concept of client care for lawyers really originates from the Solicitors Conduct Rules, which regulate how solicitors must operate. The rules are extensive and include amongst other items, dealing with conflicts of interest, putting the client first and many other important rules which offer protection and assurance to the client. Those rules in turn tie in with overall regulation of solicitors which incorporates vital aspects such as compulsory and very expensive professional indemnity insurance.
So, in reality client care is more akin to client assurance than client service – assurance equates with trust and trust is one of the fundamental reasons clients come to lawyers, to have confidence that a legal need or problem is being dealt with by professionals who know what they are doing and who are regulated so the client is protected.
Solicitors, in my experience, do not do enough to explain the above to the clients – the client should know about the above and it’s a big selling point, a benefit.
Client service is of course inextricably linked with the overall experience of using any service but it is a different concept to client assurance. Many lawyers are now alert to the fact that perception of clients about standards of, regularity and proactivity in communication are often as important as quality of legal advice. To me, client services standards are also about treating clients as equals and explaining everything in plain English. To the extent that the real meaning of client care seems to be a mysterious and unknown quantity to many clients, it looks like as a profession, we still have a long way to go in explaining what we do and the benefits of using us !
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