Service excellence is our firm's leading core value and is an indelible part of our identity and our culture. We believe it is important to tell our clients about our firm's commitment to the concept of service excellence and to set forth specific guidelines with which clients may measure the performance of our professional and support personnel.
Law firms have gone through a service revolution similar to that which other industries have already experienced. Competition is tightening and, in all likelihood, success in the future will be achieved by those firms that deliver services and compete effectively, not only on the basis of technical quality (skills and technical expertise), but also on the basis of service quality. As a firm, we have pledged to provide a level of service quality that we feel distinguishes our firm from other professional service firms - a pledge that we believe is critical to our firm's success.
What follows is an internal firm memorandum that sets forth the firm's expectations of our professional and support personnel and outlines some objective criteria against which the firm measures adherence to our pledge of client service. We hope that this is instructive to our clients and provides a framework by which clients may measure the firm's commitment to the concept of service excellence.
- Putting client service ahead of personal convenience. This expectation means, whenever necessary, working early and late, working through a weekend, putting personal matters behind the priority of client service - - in other words, doing what it takes to get the job done well (and promptly) for the client. It also means recognizing that we are not doing the client a "favor" by providing such service, but that the client deserves it - and will receive it elsewhere if we don't provide it.
- Offering proactive service to clients. This expectation includes visiting a significant client's place of business at least once a year, calling clients from whom you have not heard to check on their business, legal needs, etc. and suggesting periodic status meetings and client interviews. It also includes passing on any opportunities and legal developments that may affect the client's business.
- Making the firm accessible and easy to do business with. This expectation includes basic and best practices such as being available by telephone and in person to respond to clients, answering your own phone (and forwarding your phone when you are out of the office), returning phone calls promptly, checking voicemail frequently (both when in the office and when out of the office), including your status on your voicemail and E-mail when you are out of the office for an extended period of time, expeditiously following up with clients after they request information, and establishing and adhering to client time deadlines. It also means having your home phone number on your voice mail message unless there is a security reason not to do so, making sure that clients know where to park when they come to the office, ensuring that you have an available and clean conference room and that clients are greeted warmly and treated with respect by everyone in the office. This concept is also the reason our firm has an established policy that phone calls received during business hours are answered by the attorney or a secretary and that, during business hours, voicemail is only used when the caller requests it.
There is no doubt that technology has increased client expectations and Barley Snyder attorneys must take the approach that meeting and exceeding such expectations are another way to differentiate the firm. Thus, in areas such as transactional practice, checking one's E-mail (by Citrix or Blackberry) outside normal business hours and/or weekends is expected; attorneys involved in a transaction moving at a rapid pace must stay in this type of "closer contact" even more frequently.
- Coordinating client service and assuring that the right lawyers are working with your client to maximize value. This expectation means paying attention to client comments and feedback from client interviews, as well as being willing to address issues of workload, billing rates, expertise, work style or personality conflicts to serve the best interests of the client.
- Recognizing that all clients are firm clients. This expectation has two elements. First, no attorney has "ownership" of a client and client work should be delegated to the right lawyer for the particular matter based on expertise, workload, billing rate and other appropriate factors. Second, all clients are entitled to service excellence, not just those clients for whom you are the account lawyer or with whom you have a special relationship. Treating clients as firm clients is, most importantly, in the best interests of our clients, but is also beneficial for the firm attorneys to whom work is assigned and even to delegating attorneys.
- Demonstrating, both internally and externally, that service excellence is our top priority. This expectation is intended to ensure that our behavior with our fellow partners, associates and advisors, paralegals and staff, as well as with our clients, their business associates, secretaries and others, reflects our firm's commitment to this client-oriented approach of service excellence.
- Developing individual client plans for clients for which you are the account lawyer. This expectation includes client interviews conducted by the firm's client services director, a written plan discussed with the client services director, establishing a client team and assigning specific client responsibilities and client development activities for each team member.
- Improving internal communication. We seek to satisfy this expectation by ensuring that practice group leaders and account lawyers know about any significant client developments so that the firm can assure that all client needs are being met. This aspect at our practice also means communicating with paralegals and staff about individual client needs, expectations and special circumstances so that they have the information they need to respond appropriately to client requests and inquiries.
- Providing timely, accurate billing. This expectation includes understanding your client's individual billing requirements, making sure that you bill promptly (on a monthly basis unless otherwise dictated by the client) and ensuring that clients understand their payment responsibilities. This aspect of our practice also involves keeping your time entered into the system in a timely way to facilitate billing by others.
- Looking for opportunities to cultivate client relationships, bringing clients closer to the firm and maximizing relationships between the account lawyers and clients. This expectation may include social contacts outside the office, involving clients in firm-sponsored events (e.g. golf outings, Chamber dinners, Family Business Center programs).
- Improving communication with clients. Clients must receive timely communications regarding all substantive matters being handled for them in addition to appropriate firm newsletters, updates, alerts and other mailings. This concept includes keeping the firm marketing department informed of client address and personnel changes.
- Staying current with developments in the industries and markets in which your clients are involved. This approach enables you to add value to your client relationships by providing information which may be of interest to the client, not only in the form of legislative and case law updates, but also in the form of innovative guidance or counseling.
- Maintaining confidentiality and conflicts of interest. In accordance with the professional responsibility standards applicable to our profession:
- all firm personnel are expected to maintain all client information in the strictest confidentiality. This information includes client financial information, business plans, trade secrets and the status of ongoing transactions; and
- we must deal with all actual or potential conflicts of interests quickly and directly.
- Being involved in the communities in which we live and practice. We are expected to serve our communities in a volunteer capacity such as service on nonprofit boards and committee bar associations, to contribute to the communities in which we practice. It is important to interact with firm clients on these levels as well.
While our adherence to some of the above principles is objectively measurable, compliance with others is difficult to quantify. Those with administrative responsibilities - the Management Committee, the Practice Group leaders and those serving on the Compensation Committee - collectively have enough information, however, to understand when lawyers are providing excellent client service and when they are not meeting our standards. We cannot fail to recognize the importance of these concepts to our firm as we move forward and the fact that achieving greater levels of client service will be deemed of great importance to the firm. A lawyer's commitment to client service will be considered by the firm in making a variety of decisions from associate bonuses to partnership consideration. It will certainly impact partner compensation as well as practice group leadership and, in appropriate cases, maintaining partnership status.
One additional issue is worth mentioning. Work ethic is an essential component of client service excellence. For both associates and partners, we have always expected an appropriate level of contribution to the firm by way of client work, with marketing, firm administration, community involvement and other non-billable activities in addition to that. Having a strong work ethic enables you to please clients consistently. There is little doubt that the client who, at the end of the day, requests a project and receives it the next morning, remembers that element of service and mentions it to others. There is also no doubt that the client who is left waiting for the completion of a project because the lawyer is "too busy" is not only dissatisfied but mentions that experience to others as well. In fact, various studies have shown that between 60-90% of a firm's clients will not complain when they are dissatisfied (but may leave the firm), yet they will tell an average of 10-17 others about their concerns. Similar studies show that it is five times more expensive to acquire a new client than to keep an existing one.
It is important to note that we view the above as the minimum or threshold for service excellence. We always want to learn more about service excellence and welcome ideas from everyone involved. We maintain ongoing programs conducted by our own lawyers, as well as outside speakers and firm clients, to help us understand how we can meet and exceed client expectations.
Barley Snyder has long been recognized as a leading law firm in our markets, as a provider of quality legal services and as a responsible citizen in the communities that we serve. We recognize and appreciate the relationships that the firm has developed throughout the years and, as the firm looks to the future, we hope that the commitment to service excellence outlined above will serve to nourish those relationships and build stronger ties with our clients and our communities.