It’s a word that strikes fear into the heart of many a lawyer.
Conjuring spectres of assessment, criticism and negative feedback, it’s a confronting, uncomfortable process many would rather avoid than embrace.
But with increasingly budget conscious and value driven clients, the growth of new disruptive technology and a greater focus on reporting, regular and ongoing evaluation is fast becoming part of lawyering life.
However, it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Offering opportunities to strengthen relationships and improve service, evaluation offers benefits to both sides.
Here’s where the push is coming from, why it’s worth paying attention to, and how to handle it.
Increased financial pressure
The GFC might be over, but firms worldwide have continued to tighten their belts in the aftermath. With unlimited legal budgets a thing of the past, more work has moved in-house, with only specific work outsourced to specialised outside firms. Expectations of value are also high, with clients looking for more than discounted rates in the way of benefits.
The world of law is changing. And although the robots haven’t taken over just yet, the bread and butter tasks lawyers have undertaken for decades are changing, if not disappearing altogether. This puts pressure on firms to deliver services in a more innovative fashion, delivering solutions that are tailored to suit their clients (and not the other way around).
Reliance on reporting
Directly tied to clients’ need for value and more innovative service delivery comes a desire for accurate and consistent reporting. Clients are fast realising what can’t be monitored can’t be measured and are increasingly exploring ways to track and assess their law firm’s performance with a bid to driving quality outcomes.
Feedback can be confronting and uncomfortable.
But without it, law firms can neither function effectively, nor improve their service offerings. And without completing these twin tasks, competition will become that much harder, with firms ignoring the push becoming increasingly disconnected from their clients’ needs.
So how can we make feedback not just part of the law firm/client relationship, but transform it into a beneficial exercise for both parties?
Giving feedback needs to be easy
Effective feedback is created and provided within a framework. So besides instituting a system where reviews or evaluation are regular and ongoing, a clear set of parameters must also be established.
For those organisations where evaluation is a relatively new concept, simply starting the conversation can provide valuable insights into what is being delivered, how, and to what effect.
In the Altman Weil 2015 Chief Legal Officer Survey, 26% of CLOs said they wished outside counsel would make a greater effort to understand their business. They identified three top conversations they’d like to start: pricing/budgets, matter management efficiency and project staffing. Overall, they expressed a desire to work more collaboratively with their law firms to determine how work is priced, managed and staffed, and to play a strategic part in how work is done.
Although your organisation’s focus may be different, simply starting an open, honest conversation about what you need is an imperative first step. Once you’ve identified and made known what’s most important to you, you can create KPIs and measurable targets around which evaluation can be based. But by beginning the process with a simple conversation, you set the standard for an easy, straightforward evaluation process.
Giving feedback needs to encourage action
Evaluation is worthless without follow up. So along with ensuring the results of your feedback process are informative, they must also be actionable. Make it easy for your firms to take positive steps towards delivering what you need by setting benchmarks, identifying goals and establishing defined follow up processes. Again, collaboration is key, so encourage your firms’ involvement in defining ‘next steps’ and work together to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.
Giving feedback needs to be safe
The evaluation process doesn’t have to feel like an exam or an interrogation. And although your feedback may not always be positive, both sides must feel like they’re free to be open and honest throughout. By encouraging an ongoing conversation (as opposed to a regular critique), you create an environment where you’re working towards a stated objective, rather than one side waiting for the other to deliver.