Choosing a solicitor is one of the most important decisions an individual can make – but do people really spend enough time to find the right firm? In many cases, legal services are required at a time of emotional distress, even trauma. From divorce or probate following a family death, to moving house or dealing with personal injury, judgement can be clouded by the inevitable stress and anxiety.
Yet, the criteria upon which people choose their solicitor is arguably the most important. Naturally, it is important to find the right skill set and area of expertise. The cost of the service is also a consideration. But making a decision that misses out the human element is potentially not only damaging to the individual receiving the service, but the solicitor providing that advice also. It’s all about chemistry – and solicitors should be empowered during that selection process as well, as Teresa Fawcett-Mitchell, Practice Director, Lennons, explains.
The Power of Recommendations
Most people have limited experience of legal services. When the need arises – often suddenly – it is hard for most to know where to turn, especially if they are feeling overwhelmed. Often the simplest approach for those in need is to rely on a recommendation – either from a friend or family member or another professional, such as an accountant, estate agent or financial advisor.
Moreover, both professionals and the public are aware that not all legal services are the same. Firms of solicitors have different approaches, from the way they are structured, to their speed of response and overall ethos, all of which will affect the quality of service and overall client experience. As many people will only ask for a recommendation from someone they trust, it’s fair to assume that in most cases, those individuals who come to a firm via that route will understand the importance of the relationship – or have an understanding of the criteria that are most important to them. And, therefore, vice versa, with the solicitor also having transparency of why they were recommended in the first place.
As a starting point, the majority of people will recognise the importance of checking out the qualifications and expertise of a firm’s solicitors, but there is often more that they will consider before making a final decision. Providing cost transparency and an easily understood pricing model are really important, but a client also needs to know how much experience the firm has in this particular area – has it handled a similar personal injury case for example?
The way the firm is structured can also transform the quality of the client experience. Does the firm offer a named solicitor as a single point of contact, backed up by an assistant, who will provide consistent and constant support? Or are clients expected to access a pool of administrative assistants, with intermittent access to a rolling cast of possible solicitors handling the case?
Similarly, a firm should seek to understand what the client is going to define as a quality experience. Will it be the speed at which the case is dealt with and resolved? Is it keeping the costs as low as possible? Is it the consistency and quality of the engagement itself? Understanding that a client’s priorities are aligned with a firm’s working practices will both likely lead to better outcomes, and a better and less stressful time for the solicitor handling the matter.
While individuals may never need to meet a conveyancing solicitor in person, probate, family law and personal injury cases are very different. These situations are highly emotional and the relationship can often last many months, even years. Clients will need to share sensitive information about their health, their relationships, their children and finances. It is, therefore, essential to prioritise making potential clients feel comfortable from the very first meeting to build that essential connection and be selected as their chosen solicitor.
While most firms will offer a preliminary face-to-face meeting, many use this as a thirty-minute opportunity to talk about costs and nothing more. With no attempt at relationship building, this stands neither party in good stead. It is hugely stressful to attain the key facts during such a short conversation, especially when people are upset. A solicitor requires experience and empathy to help people share the right information.
It is also important to have the solicitor that would handle the case if appointed run the first meeting, not an individual tasked with winning business. If either party doesn’t feel that the chemistry is right, then either should be within their rights to walk away. The fit has to be right for not only the client, but the firm also – particularly when the spotlight is on winning business, it can be all to easy to put aside the importance of workplace wellbeing,
There is a sense that legal services can be reduced to a tick box operation with the use of technology. But this simply is not the case. A personal connection can make a huge difference to the client experience at what is often a hugely stressful and emotional time. Of course, technology innovation is important. Digital identification checks, for example, remove the need for additional personal visits to the office. Online quoting tools and a client portal can also improve the experience for some clients, and mitigate the more mundane tasks, leaving more solicitor time for value-added, advisory services.
But law is not a tick box and technology cannot replace the personal connection that many clients need, and many solicitors want to give. A trusted firm should remain actively committed to building long-term engagement, and encourage that amongst its employees. Consistent approach, ethos and structure across every department is key and leads, more often than not, to repeat business across departments. Chemistry is important – trust and relations between client and solicitor should go both ways.
Written by Teresa Fawcett-Mitchell, Practice Director at Lennons Solicitors.