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Customer Service In The Legal Sector: A 19% Well-Deserved Pat on the Back

· Access to Justice

By Natalie Anne Knowlton

Those of us in the legal sector can no longer shy away from the reality that in many respects, we are simply not doing a good job of serving customers.

The Net Promoter Score® for the legal industry in 2018 was 19%.


Scratch what I wrote before, then. This suggests that we’re doing a terrible job of serving customers from an industry standpoint. There’s no patting our backs on this one. 19% sucks. It really sucks.

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Sure, the legal industry beat out cable and satellite TV providers and internet service companies. Most everyone knows there’s no congratulations for us in order there. And I know industry context is important when comparing NPS® across companies and across industries, but I’m still not going to give our industry a pass on this one.

You shouldn't either

Clients are voting with their feet

Clients think we’re doing such a bad job serving them that in many segments of the industry, they’re not even electing to become clients anymore. State court civil and family dockets are heavily populated with self-represented litigants who either cannot afford an attorney or who choose not to afford an attorney.

Check out the findings from this recent study in Virginia:

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The old fallback that this exodus away from legal service providers is being driven by a “DIY” culture — and those crazy, independent millennials — only buys so much ground when we’re talking about people whose children, marital assets, and family homes are on the line and who desperately need (and want) legal advice.


But without legal help, these people turn to online resources, tech tools, other people, you name it, and the outcomes of these sources of help are questionable. Or, they might just plain forget about it altogether, where that’s possible.


Yes, this is a price issue for many, many people. It isn’t, though, just a low-income/modest-means client issue. BigLaw firms are losing clients, too. The traditional relationship between BigLaw and corporate clients changed considerably during the Great Recession, and it arguably hasn’t looked the same since. Corporate clients are keeping a lot more work in-house these days, creating new efficiencies with legal tech tools and legal operations professionals.


The work that corporate clients are outsourcing is now going to a wider range of service providers than just BigLaw partners, including offshore e-discovery vendors, contract attorneys, legal process outsourcing companies, accounting and speciality firms, and other “alternative” legal service providers. The latter are becoming so commonplace that we likely need to drop the term alternative altogether.


Price drives many of these decisions, certainly, but sophisticated clients are increasingly focusing on efficiency, value, interdisciplinary services, and other things that they are not getting, or cannot get, at traditional BigLaw providers.

We are not driving this bus anymore

Across sub-segments of the broader legal industry, clients of all types — individuals, Fortune 500 companies, startups, and others — are walking away from traditional providers and traditional models of legal services delivery. There’s no question that clients are driving the industry bus; the only question that remains is whether we’re going to be allowed on it in light of how well we’ve done with customer service to date.

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I’m guessing about 19% of us will be granted a ticket to ride, but it’s looking pretty empty at this point. Unless …

New Year, New Chance

Whenever we begin a new year, it’s like the events and occurrences of the prior year wash away, like a beautiful sand mandala or a piece of dog poop on your neighborhood sidewalk after a good rain. It’s not really like that, but there’s always this human tendency to think fresh and anew during the first few days of January.


And don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. There are law firms out there, big and small and everything in between, that are reinventing their client approach, differentiating with new business models, and offering bespoke services tailored to real client needs. There are advocates, law students, legal tech companies, and others developing tools that help connect people with legal services. And in-house departments are undeniably leading the way when it comes to innovation, efficiency, and service.


But there’s simply no running away from the fact that a lot of it is bad, which means we have a great opportunity to improve. If I were the legal industry, I’d be approaching this new year with a single item on my 2019 resolution list:


Natalie Anne Knowlton is a co-organizer of Denver Legal Hackers.

Follow Natalie on Twitter: @natalalleycat