Becoming client-focused is going to be difficult for family law.

I’m writing this because I have been stunned by the number of professional colleagues who don’t make it easy for anyone to contact them. Their emails will invariably not mention a contact number, but when it does it will usually be a generic switchboard number rather than their direct dial, as it will on their websites. I have asked two lawyers for their DD numbers recently: one told me they have only given the number to their daughter so I was to promise not to give it to a client or another lawyer; and the other said they’d rather not give out the number “because I tend to answer the phone rather abruptly”. It makes the whole challenge of building interdisciplinary family law communities so much more difficult, and suggest that some of us are light years away from a true paradigm shift.

It got me thinking how difficult it must be for their clients to contact them. You don’t need to engage in any sort of market research to understand that what clients want from family lawyers, is not necessarily what family lawyers want to provide. Clients want more free information, they want their lawyers to be process architects, they want better use of technology, they want less expense, they want financial, therapeutic, legal and negotiating experts and they want control over achieving better outcomes. And that’s just to begin with.

Family law services on the whole (and there are some exceptions) still seem to be hoping above hope that they can continue to deliver what they have always delivered, which is a one-size fits all approach where the lawyer is on a pedestal (because we’re important), where we are often difficult to contact (because availability equates to over-familiarity), where we want to meddle in things we know little about (psychology, children and money), and where we control the choice of process which typically stamps our ideas of fairness and outcome on others’ disputes. Inappropriately and expensively.

Lawyers are not alone in failing to deliver, though. Family consultants and financial planners – who have long been perceived by lawyers as junior partners in dispute resolution terms – are equally and sometimes more important in relationship breakdown resolution but they need to step up to the mark collectively by acting as equal partners and demonstrating what value they can add. Software writers, too, should be developing tools which aid clients as much as they aid the professional user.

Family law is not yet waking up in sufficient numbers to all of this, let alone smelling the coffee. I hope it doesn’t take the hard medicine of redundancies and closures to bring it home.

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3 comments

  1. Phil O'Connor (The Divorce IFA)

    I completely agree. This is something which the IFA community is slowly waking up to with the march of the internet and legislation pressures! I understand the same things happening in the legal world too!

    I having recently looked at my client proposition as a financial planner and completely overhauled it to make it more user friendly.

    We now have a specific offering for clients going through divorce and one for our “normal” clients. Both have been designed to offer the most holistic approach we can give them using the most eloquent simple processes.

    Now the trick is winning the clients. Will the legal community follow…

  2. paragit

    Very true. We need people to create legal products, price them, package them and take them to market – Co-op may be interested! The high value low volume stuff that’s left can be food for the few specialist lawyers which will be necessary. The rest need to join the real world and get a proper job. Just because you have been a lawyer doesn’t make you unemployable!

  3. Jolyon Berry

    Stephen, its not just family law where this is a particular problem. The more we move away from competing on price and into competition on service, the more approachable, transparent and pro-active we need to become. Many cite the “old guard” as being slow to embrace mobile technology and the customer service approach, but I find plenty of newly qualified lawyers adopting the same old bad habits.

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