I mentioned that you almost surely know where your firm falls short on “value.” Here’s the prod to get serious about closing those gaps.

If you step back to reflect on the astonishing improvements in manufacturing quality we’ve all experienced and benefited from over the past few decades (cars, appliances, smartphones, even IKEA furniture, for heaven’s sake), you know the mantra is “zero product defects.” Have you ever thought about how to apply that to what your firm delivers, namely legal services?

You only need think about end-to-end manufacturing for a moment to recognize that it’s complicated and rife with opportunities for defects to creep in: From suppliers, assemblers, distributors, retailers, service technicians, etc. Have you ever thought about how delivering high end legal services is equally rife with opportunities for defects?

Let’s focus on what a “defect” in legal service delivery means. Setting aside malpractice and subpar advice—not germane to the present audience, and not interesting to any audience—a “defect,” I submit, is a gap in trust between your firm and the client. Stated differently, exceptional client value is a product of zero gaps in trust.

The famous JD Power surveys have actually attempted to quantify the economic value of “trust,” and while you should consider this strictly qualitative and not quantitative in nature, higher score on trust consistently correlate with (a) greater willingness of clients to introduce their trusted firms to friends and colleagues; and (b) lower sensitivity to fees.

This is where the CVG delivers real internal change to your firm. If you think of your firm as designed to build trust with clients, it re-conceptualizes client interactions. And it elevates the CVG itself from a market/economic transaction (“satisfaction guaranteed or your money back”) to binding glue for the relationship. And that’s what clients want, after all: Clients don’t want payouts on your guarantee; they want the value the guarantee promises.

Now, getting from here to there is not for the faint of heart.

Among other things, you had best be sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that:

  • Your firm is deadly serious about a client focus;
  • Your platform is stable; do not under any circumstances attempt this in the midst of an internal fire drill;
  • You can create productive and internally credible working groups to assess the actual feasibility of a CVG for your firm.

Then you get into the nitty-gritty of identifying gaps in your “production of value:” In the nice metaphor of Prof. Hart, think of them as exercises in “turning up the water pressure in the hose to expose the leaks.”

I noted at the start of this column that I thought both pieces of it—the substantive notion of a client value guarantee and the dynamics of behavior change it might set in motion—had value. I stand by that, but let me add a few closing words of elaboration and clarification.

First, even for those of us of the most optimistic stripe, this can be handing your client your sword—and your shield while you’re at it. If you want to try this, experiment with only with the most trusted and trustworthy of clients, and you might want to think twice about them.

But second and more important, focus on how embedded firm operating methods like this can dramatically affect behavior. A very high-profile example of this technique in action in BigLaw just appeared in an article by McKinsey, in their profile of Seyfarth, “A New Order for Law.” The article is broadly about Seyfarth’s move over the past decade or so to lean management principles, emphasizing predictability, transparency, and collaboration.

One of the specific techniques or operating methods underlying that is exposing cllients to the status of each of their engagements in real time: The underlying to-do lists, tasks, and status of each item against agreed-upon standards. This may sound like it’s merely process and not substance, but here is how Andrew Baker, Seyfarth’s director of legal products and technology, described the impact:

Knowing that a client can log in at any particular point in time and see what’s happening is a huge motivator. That transparency creates powerful incentives, which shape the right perspective and behavior.

Seyfarth’s experience is the twin separated at birth from the client value guarantee exercise I laid out here. New expectations elicit new behaviors. And new day to day operating methods embedded in how the firm works help support continued discipline and focus driving those new behaviors.


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