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Important Data on the Impact of Law Firm Client Service During COVID

In 2020, Wicker Park Group launched ClienTELL. Law firms on the platform are creating robust customization to analyze their own client feedback and using sentiment analysis to identify what drives firm, industry and practice loyalty. They are also tracking key components of client service from their own client perspective.

As we look at the broader data from all the feedback we conduct across all modalities, some clear trends have materialized, specifically from the comparative period of 2019 versus 2021. Some key highlights include:

Bench Strength:

When we ask clients about their perception of bench strength, positive responses remained fairly consistent, with 48% expressing positive sentiment in 2019 and 45% in 2021. Where we have seen the biggest change is on the negative sentiment. In 2019 negative sentiment was 24% of all respondents to our feedback and in 2021 that has dropped to an impressive 5%. However, because the positive sentiment remained static over the two-year period, that means that there is a significant increase in those that are “neutral” on their view of the firm’s bench strength. Opportunities here abound.

Budgets:

Another area where we have seen a shift, and this one is not for the positive, is budgets. In 2019, one in five interviewees said budget management exceeded expectation. In 2021, that is down to less than 2%, a bad indicator of a firm’s ability to communicate changes in budgets. The negative sentiment remained constant during this period, and the neutral increased to a very strong 94%, so clients are satisfied but not delighted with the communication around budget variances.

Understanding the Client’s Business and Challenges:

This topic is another area where we have seen a dramatic shift that is likely directly correlated to COVID and the inability to spend in-person time with clients and have more off-the-clock meetings. In 2019, we saw 51% of clients say that firms exceeded their expectations in this area, and that dropped to 11% in 2021. This could be an alarming trend, but one could also surmise that there has been an industry-wide “reset” on the prioritization of how important it is to demonstrate an understanding of the client’s business and challenges. We saw this grow significantly in the period leading up to 2019, so the normalization of this as a key component to client service could be a contributing factor to a full 87% of clients saying their firms and lawyers are performing “as expected” in this area.

Cross-Selling:

The really alarming data, and clearly related to COVID and the inability to meet in person, is how clients view their firms’ introductions to other expertise, also known as cross-selling. In 2019, 64% rated their firms as positive in this area. That number dropped to 12% in 2021. What is more alarming is a 5x increase in the negative sentiment on cross-selling. In 2019, the negative feedback on this topic was 9% compared to a full 50% in 2021. It’s clear from the data that in isolation, firms’ efforts to grow relationships through cross-selling by way of strategic introductions was severally impacted.

In the coming months, Wicker Park Group will be releasing even more of our findings and deeper analysis. I will leave this post with one last observation. When we analyze the feedback around opportunities for lawyers and firms to improve service, the topic that is both top of mind and top of the list is “Be More Proactive.” While everyone is working at 100% capacity and demand is at an all-time high, it is harder to be proactive instead of reactive—to take the time to call a client and ask them what’s top of mind and what’s on the horizon. It is the very moment when we have the least capacity to do it that it is most important.

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