It's more than just fees, the absence of transparent communication creates a divide between clients and their lawyers
This article was produced in partnership with LexisNexis.
Jacqueline So of NZ Lawyer sat down with the LexisNexis NZ team to talk about the results of the organisation’s latest research survey on how clients and consumers view the legal profession.
The legal profession has often been subject to criticism on a global scale, perpetuating stereotypes, and misconceptions. Unfortunately, lawyers have often been the target of jokes, unfairly characterised as arrogant and opportunistic individuals who take advantage of clients through complex legal jargon and loopholes. It's important to note that the media has played a significant role in perpetuating these negative perceptions, particularly among those who have never had the opportunity to work with a lawyer.
However, recent findings from LexisNexis NZ's latest survey shed light on a different perspective. The survey indicates that the main issue clients face is not with lawyers themselves, but rather with the lack of transparent communication. This lack of transparency contributes to the perception that lawyers are untrustworthy, and it also leads to clients feeling surprised by unexpected fees that were not clearly communicated at the beginning of the legal engagement.
To gain a comprehensive understanding of clients' opinions on their legal representatives and to identify ways lawyers can better serve client needs, LexisNexis NZ conducted the research in collaboration with global research company Kantar. They spoke to 5 client groups (over 420 respondents), including business decision makers/owners, consumers, corporate decision makers who utilised in-house counsel, in-house counsel engaging external legal services, and potential legal clients in New Zealand.
A consistent theme that emerged from the survey was that most clients felt that lawyers did not communicate clearly about the costs of legal services. Only 58% of business clients reported that their lawyers provided clear information about the likely cost of work or fixed fees. The percentage was slightly higher among personal clients (65%), but it dipped among in-house counsel who engaged external legal services (48%).
Furthermore, only 39% of in-house counsel who engaged external legal services felt that lawyers explained their charging system at the beginning of their engagement. This figure was slightly higher among personal clients (55%) and business clients (61%).
One personal client shared their perspective, emphasising the importance of clear communication and proactive customer service: "[Lawyers] should inform me about what to expect and explain the rules. Providing extra value through regular check-ins with the customer, ensuring that everything is handled properly, and that the customer is well-informed throughout the entire process, would be highly appreciated."
Transparency about fees and charges has been a recurring concern, as evidenced by a similar survey conducted by LexisNexis in 2016. Merv Giam, head of marketing at LexisNexis NZ, raised questions about the challenges lawyers face in allocating time for client care and communication. He suggested that leveraging the right resources, skills, legal technology, and systems could potentially provide lawyers with more time to focus on client needs and cultivate a proactive partnership, for the all-important repeat and referral clientele.
Giam emphasised that improved communication channels create an opportunity for lawyers to clearly outline their charges and set service level expectations. He also highlighted the evolving role of lawyers, which, in addition to advancing the rule of law and ensuring access to justice, now places greater emphasis on client care and service as the world becomes more interconnected and commercialized.
In addition to clearer communication about fees, respondents from the business client side expressed a desire for lawyers to avoid assuming that clients understand legal terms and their significance. Personal clients and in-house counsel also indicated their preference for regular updates on their matter, and most cases even when there is no significant update to report.
Despite these areas for improvement, the majority of clients who engaged lawyers and law firms expressed satisfaction with the services provided. Among business clients, 77% felt that their lawyers met their expectations, representing a 2% increase compared to 2016. Additionally, 14% believed that their lawyers exceeded their expectations, showing a 4% increase from 2016.
For personal clients, there was a slight improvement as well, with 64% feeling that their lawyers met their expectations (a 1% increase), and 20% stating that their expectations were exceeded (same as in 2016). In the case of in-house counsel engaging external legal services, 78% felt that their expectations were met, while 9% felt that their expectations were exceeded.
The question for lawyers to explore, is it good enough to just meet expectations? Will this instil confidence in your clients to refer your firm for future matters or should lawyers aim to exceed expectations? And the big question is, what does exceeded expectations means to your client?
LexisNexis is providing an in-depth 6-part report and insights complete with a free checklist for lawyers and firms to use to assess against their own processes and clients to evaluate where they benchmark against this research.
To get your free copy of the report, insights and checklist, click and submit the form here >>> What Are Your Client Saying Report Series?