Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Legal innovation: 
The future client

Legal innovation: 
The future client


Managing client expectations and going over and above what is expected has become the norm, says Bhavesh Patel

Over recent years the legal client has rapidly evolved. Law firms
are now expected to provide the complete customer experience. Technological advances, more competitive firms, and new entrants to the market along with the rise in client expectation levels have changed the way a legal firm will operate in the future.

A decade ago, traditional firms that provided services such as conveyancing and family law would have a number of clients visiting offices for advice expecting to have face-to-face meetings with
their solicitor, with a bill based on an hourly rate.

So why has this effective model gradually changed over the years? Well, this is primarily as a result of two key factors. First, technological advances mean the client now has access to legal documentation/information at their fingertips through company websites, online forums, and the power
of a simple Google search.
This access to seemingly endless information increases the demand upon solicitors
to be far more specific and accurate with their advice now they are dealing with better-informed clients.

The other factor is the introduction of the Legal Services Act 2007, which has made a significant impact on the legal industry following the launch of alternative business structures. Existing consultants, such as Deloitte, have extended their product range, while new companies, such as Axiom,
who offer legal services with
a competitive pricing policy, provide clients with easy access to the law.

The formation of new legal business providers has led to competitive pricing policies within the current market, but firms are reacting by providing clients with a range of new funding arrangements, such
as fixed fees or damages based agreements. A recent Law Society report has confirmed the changing trend toward fees as the traditional hourly rate model gradually disappears.

However, while cost structures are changing, it is clear that clients are still more than happy to pay a greater fee if an exceptional service and quality of work is provided.

Customer satisfaction

Client demands are increasing and they are demanding more than just practical legal advice; they demand a complete customer service. Commercial lawyers have always been expected to provide more than just legal advice, but this will start to force itself into other areas of law too.

Client expectation from the wider services industry must also be factored in. Ebay, for example, uses a simple online system
to enable prompt dispute resolution. Given its widespread use, this service has set the benchmark of an easy, stress-free approach to resolving disputes which firms need to consider.It is inevitable law firms and some aspects of the court system will become online based, so such methods of
early resolution should be considered. Having said that, the transition to such models is not simple; although practical for civil matters, it may not
be appropriate for childcare proceedings, for example.

There are four ways that firms can improve client relationships and deal with future demands:

  • Going paperless and creating an online portal system and/or mobile application will allow
    clients to access legal documentation/correspondence at any
    time and in any location, providing flexibility and convenience;

  • Provide clients with additional information, not just specific legal advice, but also business management, strategy, and risk where appropriate;

  • Develop relationships with other firms and service providers to deliver an efficient and collaborative all-round client service; and

  • Using document review systems, such as IBM's Watson Software, to help productivity.

It is becoming just as important to provide an overall positive experience for the client, by managing their expectations and going over and above
what is expected. Regardless
of a firm's ability to practise
law, an inability to deliver an efficient customer experience will undoubtedly lead to a loss
of business.

Bhavesh Patel is a solicitor at Withy King @WithyKing