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Hannah Gannagé-Stewart

Deputy Editor, Solicitors Journal

Vintage service: the value of face-to-face contact

Vintage service: the value of face-to-face contact


More clients are making initial contact online but most ultimately still want to interact with a lawyer, says David Kirwan

Recent research about the ways in which clients and potential clients prefer to communicate with law firms has found that 83 per cent of current and future consumers prefer to deal with law firms online.

According to case generation company Mmadigital, clients that have already instructed a firm believe, apparently, that communicating in this way could save them money.

Presumably, they expect it will take lawyers less time to respond to an email than it will to have a telephone conversation.

Others making initial enquiries about costs and chances of success, meanwhile, prefer to keep us at an arm’s length until they’ve decided to take us on.

In a point that perhaps says more about the legal sector than about the clients themselves, the research shows that people are sometimes daunted at the prospect of dealing directly with law firms.

Like so many of us, they are probably also time-poor and reluctant to invest precious minutes discussing their case over the telephone in return for a quote.

The sector has experienced inconceivable change since I qualified some 50 years ago, and I, too, have observed the growing move towards online enquiries.

But just as the research shows that over half of those surveyed (55 per cent) still wanted face-to-face contact with lawyers in addition, it appears, to online contact, I have also noticed that few clients are happy to converse online alone.

Nearly all, after using email or our online contact form to make their initial enquiries, desire face-to-face or telephone contact with a human being.

Also, despite 39 per cent of respondents claiming that artificial intelligence would be a good idea, my experience is that clients are reluctant to embrace the technology that is shaking up the industry.

Some clients choose to simply drop in to our high-street branches, looking for contact with a person who can empathise with their situation rather than a chatbot with no experience of human life.

Creating a relationship

For many people, the feeling of not being heard is what has led them to take legal action in the first place; face-to-face contact not only lets them express in person the gravity of their situation, it also creates a relationship that can last long after that initial case has concluded.

The importance of retaining face-to-face contact with clients is a point I feel is in danger of being lost at the moment. As the sector cautiously explores the possibilities that AI can bring, I wonder how many clients are actually put off by this form of contact.

From a firm’s point of view, how many opportunities are missed by dealing with initial inquiries this way? Can a chatbot identify potential private client work in what appears to be a straightforward divorce query? Or can it pick up on a contentious probate case hidden behind a conveyancing enquiry?

Regardless of how potential clients choose to make initial contact with us, it’s the manner in which we respond that will determine whether or not they choose to use our services.

One benchmark study by ABA Law found that 42 per cent of the time, law firms take three or more days to reply to a voicemail or web generated form fill from a prospective client.

Such a delay alone would no doubt destroy many a right-thinking person’s faith in the firm before they’d even managed to talk to a solicitor; which might be easier said than done according to the ABA research.

It revealed that less than 10 per cent of prospective clients actually speak with a lawyer – sending out the message that they’re less ‘valued’ clients and more ‘low value’ clients.

At a time when there has never been so much choice for legal consumers, low value is the last thing we want clients to feel.

For them to choose to even start their journey with us, let alone complete it, they must be welcomed, reassured, and most of all, valued. And that’s something that only a personal service, no matter how seemingly ‘vintage’, can provide.

David Kirwan is managing partner at Kirwans