Who is Your Client Advocate?

Who is your firm’s client advocate?

(Yes, this is a trick question.)

Many years ago, I had the misfortune of finding myself in the hospital. One of the first questions they asked me was, “What do you do for a living?” When I responded, “I’m a lawyer,” the battle lines were drawn. They raised their defensive shields immediately, which naturally caused me to become extremely curious and highly observant. This, of course, just made them more anxious.

After I asked one too many questions, I was told that I was going to be discharged early. Just before my discharge, a person who called herself a “patient advocate” visited me. I vaguely recall a fairly pleasant person who seemed unable to take my feedback and cause any changes in the hospital’s approach. Coupled with the rest of my experience at their hands, I had no hesitation in telling everyone I met about my bad experiences with that hospital.

This is the wrong kind of word-of-mouth advertising.

Clearly, this was a suboptimal case. But before you start bemoaning the state of American healthcare, ask yourself these questions:

  • “Is there any parallel to client experience with my firm?”
  • “Is anyone in the firm even asking our clients about how they experience our services?”
  • “If they are asking these questions, what are they doing with the answers?
  • “What is changing because of the answers received?”

Now, let’s return to the initial question: “Who is your firm’s client advocate?” If you answered, “The relationship partner,” you fell for the trick. Relationship partners usually are good at staying close to the client, winning work, responding to client queries, managing client teams within the firm, and billing (and collecting!) in a timely manner. As a practical matter, not enough relationship partners have the time, training, or (frankly) nerve to actually walk in their client’s shoes and experience the firm’s service from their client’s perspective. In other words, relationship partners can be more reactive than proactive.

Seth Godin explains the difference between reactive and proactive client service: “Reactive client service waits until something is broken.” Proactive client service anticipates where potential problems might arise and plans ahead to avert or mitigate them. Reactive client service makes the bare minimum changes necessary to pacify clients. Proactive client service holds itself to a higher bar: it creates the conditions that make clients grateful for and vocal about their wonderful relationship with your firm.

So what might a client advocate in your firm do?

  • actively solicit client feedback on their relationship and experience with the firm
  • conduct after-action reviews with firm lawyers and staff to gain a more holistic view of what happened
  • advocate on behalf of clients for new practices and policies that help avert or mitigate negative client experiences
  • work with firm lawyers and staff to embed those new practices and policies in firm workflows

Now, let’s return to the initial question again: “Who is your firm’s client advocate?”

[Photo Credit: Paul Mercuri [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

 

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Happy 10th Anniversary!

On January 21, 2008, I tried something new. I blogged for the first time.

My reasons for starting this blog were fairly simple. I realized there was an interesting conversation happening online about technology, knowledge management, innovation, and collaboration; however, I did not have any way to be a part of it. At the time, the best way into the conversation seemed to be through blogging. So I started blogging.

Over the intervening 10 years, I’ve had more than my fair share of fascinating conversations thanks to this blog. I’ve also discovered that my approach to blogging provides the collateral benefit of really expanding my education. This is due in large part to my tendency to be a knowledge broker. According to Professor Andrew Hargadon (UC Davis), brokers learn from domains outside their own and then bring that new learning back to their own domain. For him, this is a critical element of innovation: “…revolutionary innovations do not result from flashes of brilliance by lone inventors or organizations. In fact, innovation is really about creatively recombining ideas, people, and objects from past technologies in ways that spark new technological revolutions.”

Understanding that information for information’s sake is not as powerful as information put to use, Hargadon has identified the powerful role brokers play in creating social networks that can spread new information and put it to work: “…brokers simultaneously bridge the gaps in existing networks that separate distant industries, firms, and divisions to see how established ideas can be applied in new ways and places, and build new networks to guide these creative recombinations to mass acceptance.”

Tracking just one idea shows the power of combining brokering with a network. Take the example of the Failure Party. I learned about the failure party phenomenon through conversation with someone in the pharmaceutical industry. Further research turned up a 2004 article in the Wall Street Journal. Given the clear benefits of failure parties, I was surprised that I had never heard of them in the legal industry. So, putting on my knowledge broker hat, I wrote: “Host a Failure Party” in 2009. While I’m not willing to claim cause and effect, I will note that since that post the International Legal Technology Association’s annual conference has included several failure party sessions and one city-wide group of law firm KM professionals hosts an annual failure party.

Blogging is an inherently social practice for me. It is an opportunity to share information, shape debate, and expand horizons. In the process, I’ve been truly grateful for the response of my readers. Some of you retweet my posts or email them to colleagues. Others send me private messages letting me know when a particular post struck a chord or was helpful. One friend and colleague sent me the following text message in response to my blog post, “Pick a Fight in 2018“:

Happy New Year Mary! Once again I am inspired by your blog. I definitely have a few fights to pick in 2018! Thank you for your generous inspiration! All the best to you and your family.

This message arrived out of the blue and is one I will treasure. When I write I have no idea sometimes if any of it helps anyone else. So I truly appreciate hearing from my readers and seeing ideas from this blog gain traction.

Let me end where I should have begun — by thanking my readers. You have been amazing partners on this journey. I look forward to the adventures the next 10 years together bring. Thank you!

[Photo Credit: Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash]

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