Applying outcomes focused regulation to client engagement processes
With the arrival of ABSs in October we will see the introduction of a new Code of Conduct which requires Outcome Focused Regulation. Solicitors are already thinking about the implications for their firms as there will be less prescription as to how things are done with the focus moving to the achievement of desired outcomes.
It is interesting to apply this approach to the way in which solicitors engage with clients at the start of all matters. Traditionally, solicitors have been required to send out engagement letters and terms of business statements but this has often been seen as necessary administration rather than an opportunity to achieve some desired outcomes. Accountants are perhaps sometimes more commercial in their approach and would see this process important and an opportunity to be clear about the outcomes that they are trying to achieve.
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So what are the outcomes that a firm is trying to achieve when it engages with a client to provide legal services?
- Absolute clarity over the needs of the client and what they would value in terms of service from the solicitor – we must not try to work out for ourselves what the client wants but ask them and make sure that this is delivered.
- A charging structure that is accepted by the client and which provides value to the client – time based billing is certainly not dead but we need to be willing to offer fixed and performance related fees where the client would like them.
- Clarity over when payments will be made to control levels of lock up – there is no reason why we cannot start by saying that the firm requires money on account, interim bills and that all bills are payable on receipt.
- A service that is tailored to the expectations of the client – this means encouraging all fee earners to keep asking for feedback from the start to the end of a matter.
- A clear understanding of what the client needs to do for the work to be done better, faster and cheaper – clients will not pay for us to spend huge amounts of time undertaking administrative tasks and gathering client data. We will need to be clear and firm with the client at the outset as to what we need from them.
- A mechanism for keeping the client informed on costs so that there will never be any “nasty surprises” – a weekly or fortnightly routine to update clients is easily implemented by those who want to make a good impression; the use of alert systems when WIP hits certain trigger points is also a good way of achieving this outcome.
Many of us do not spend enough time at the outset thinking about what needs to be done to maximise client satisfaction and matter profitability. Such an investment will normally deliver healthy returns.
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