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Make It Easy

At the beginning of 2015, I was given the great opportunity to become a strategic partner with the Wicker Park Group, the preeminent firm focused on client feedback in the legal industry today. At our first meeting, I asked the group: “After more than 2,000 client feedback interviews, what is it that clients care about most?” They told me that virtually all clients want three things from their successful client-lawyer relationships: (1) Solve my problem, (2) Make my life easier, and (3) Be easy to work with.

The second of these characteristics—“Make my life easier”—was reinforced last week at the Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas. For those of you who attended the conference, you will remember the keynote presentation by Zoë Chance, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Yale School of Management. Professor Chance offered compelling research demonstrating that people, when given the choice between comparable options, overwhelmingly tend to choose what is easiest. She pointed to Amazon and Uber as prime examples of companies that “disrupted” their respective industries by offering an easier alternative to more traditional competitors.

Professor Chance’s message reminded me of Ockham’s Razor. William of Ockham, a prominent philosopher who lived during the High Middle Ages, is best known for his theory that all things being equal, simple is better than complex.

Simple is better. Easy is preferred.

So how might we apply the concepts of simple and easy in our efforts to create stronger bonds with our colleagues and clients?

I am reminded of a program launched in the late 1990s by the Seattle office manager at Stoel Rives, a Pacific Northwest law firm. The program, entitled “I’ll Take Care of It,” was based on a simple concept. All staff were taught to accept virtually any request or task an attorney might ask of them (within reason, of course). Whatever the request, the response was: “I’ll take care of it.” The mail clerk wasn’t expected to do the work of a legal secretary, nor was the paralegal expected to move furniture or restock supplies. “Taking care” was a team concept, and every staff professional was a conduit to the entire support team. The staff were expected to know—or figure out—who on the support team was responsible for what services.

The program generated remarkable results, among them a deeper understanding and general clarity around individual staff responsibilities and a renewed sense of espirit de corps among lawyers and staff.

Every quarter, the office recognized a staff professional who had gone out of his or her way to “take care of it.” The recognition ceremony was held mid-morning and included an enticing array of “sticky buns” for any who dared to enjoy the sweet, caloric overload. Most memorable, however, were the unique stories of cooperation and support that made life easier in the office.

How can we make life easier—and simpler—for our colleagues and clients? Three appropriately simple examples for your consideration:

  • The Wicker Park Group will tell you to ask your clients what they like about working with competing firms. Take what you learn and make adjustments to your own service delivery.
  • Clients want their lawyers to do many things. Chief among them is to anticipate legal and business problems before they arise. In lieu of sending a barrage of unedited articles arising from a Google or Manzama search, for example, provide a curated summary of key industry issues and offer to provide more if there is interest. Makes life just that much easier for your client.
  • Offer to help in a specific way. It’s easy to say, “Let me know if I can help.” Without specifics, your colleague has no idea if you have the time or ability to help. Offering to do a specific task makes it easier for your colleague to gratefully accept and you to control the scope of your offer. “Let me take those to the mail room for you.” “How about I look up the address and make sure your letter is mailed on time?” “I’m happy to proofread your memo for clarity and typos.”

Simple and easy.

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