Culture vs. clients in law firms: Which is more important?

March 11, 2021

Law firms are managing client pressure to reduce fees without compromising on service while working harder to forge a stronger culture and sense of identity in a remote working environment that looks set to stay. Should law firms put clients or culture first in their business model? Find out in the second blog of our Future of Work series.

Increasing competition from alternative legal service providers, LegalTech, and the ‘big four’ consultancies are pressuring law firms to deliver better service while reducing fees. Meanwhile, law firms must work harder to forge a stronger culture and sense of identity among a workforce in a remote working environment that looks set to stay. Should law firms put clients or culture first in their business model?

The answer is a bit of both. The recurring theme we have gathered from our research and from leaders at our client law firms is that clients need to be placed front and center in a law firm’s operating model, but in order to deliver better service, a culture that prioritizes greater teamwork, collaboration and the desire to harness better innovation, processes and technology is required to deliver the service that clients need.

Clients: From white glove service at the firm to personalized virtual service

Before the pandemic, law firms that delivered a “white glove” experience to visiting clients stood out from the competition. It also gave them a sense of corporate cultural identity and prestige.

The last year has witnessed a humanizing between law firms and their clients. Many lawyers always had a close relationship with their clients, but now that most interactions have transitioned online it’s allowed them to get even closer at a personal level, such as meeting their families, getting a glimpse of their homes, and even meeting their pets, something that would have rarely been the case 18 to 24 months ago. This has moved focus away from white glove hospitality and entertainment to the nuts and bolts of client service – being there for your clients, rapid provision of service, information and sharing trends, real-time brainstorming solutions and thought leadership – ultimately doing what law firms do best – giving practical and actionable advice.

Culture: Greater connectivity and collaboration to upskill the workforce

As the focus on clients has further strengthened, the emphasis on bringing the right tools and skillsets to deliver the best possible service has grown internally as well. Training and developing junior associates has become more fluid with greater efforts from senior partners to develop and mentor them virtually and similarly with clients, connect professionally while getting to know them more on a personal level. Many law firms have ramped up their efforts to provide greater resources for their lawyers to tap into, such as virtual outreach centers on various areas of law; whether regional, political, regulatory, or industry specific.

That sort of environment provides greater energy and collaboration within the firm to dig into new issues and offers opportunities for growth and development of junior associates, allowing them to jump into new areas of law, thus broadening their skillset. Connection and engagement among staff has risen to the fore. Therefore, whether it’s with clients or internal staff, law firms are looking at relationships differently and are willing to try novel approaches that include technology and new ways of working.

The future: A greater focus on the core

This goes back once again to looking at the nuts and bolts of what law firms do best – practicing law. As focus has shifted to core work to keep client service and staff engagement at optimum levels, many are now examining their in-house operational support functions: document processing, digital mail, secretarial support, marketing and financial support services.

Transferring those essential but non-core activities to providers that specialize in bringing innovation, technology and security, integrating it with workflow and data analytics tools to measure and manage utilization rates and productivity, and transforming those functions can create greater efficiency while managing cost. This will then help law firms to focus on the core of what they do – develop a stronger culture within and thus offer higher quality legal expertise at a more competitive price, while also having more time to analyze their business strategy and target more diverse services.

For a more in-depth look at workplace innovations and trends in the legal sector, download The Future of Work report.

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