How others see us

 In Gill's Blog, Practice Management, Probate

Disclaimer: LawSkills provides training for the legal industry and does not provide legal advice to members of the public. For help or guidance please seek the services of a qualified practitioner.

An accountant said on AccountingWeb

“My experience of solicitors in this arena (across a dozen estates) has been uniformly awful – from a laissez-faire attitude that treats completing the forms as more important than seeking accuracy, right through to inflating their charges with unwarranted & inefficient activities.

And the ‘culprits’ ranged from mid-sized county-town practices to large firms in the City … so it doesn’t look like merely ‘a few bad eggs’.”

Do you recognize yourself? Do you think this may be how accountants in your circle see your estate administration services?

The quality-gap model

Back in 1985 Parasuraman identified a series of gaps or key discrepancies which exist regarding executive perceptions of service quality and the tasks associated with service delivery to clients. These gaps can be major hurdles in attempting to deliver a service which consumers would perceive as being of high quality. It is clearly something lawyers need to work on given even accountants see our business delivery rather differently than we do.

  1. The expected service compared to the perceived service – expectation arises because of any recommendation provided to the client by a friend or other referrer; how competitors operate; past experience of using your services and a client’s unique needs.
  2. The difference between the lawyer’s management perceptions of client expectations and how these are translated in any service quality specification.
  3. The difference between the service quality specification and actual service delivery.
  4. The gap between service delivery and how we communicate to clients.
  5. How the client perceives the service we deliver based on the communications we have provided.

Satisfaction

To overcome some of the discrepancies it is vital to establish client expectations at the outset of a matter in order to meet or surpass them. However, just knowing what a client expects from us is not enough. We know that satisfaction comes from actually delivering what we promised we would, on time and on budget.

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With estate administration at the moment, we are up against a probate service from HMCTS which is not fit for purpose, and it is hard to get that across not just to PRs but beneficiaries and third parties like accountants but try we must.

Another accountant on AccountingWeb said

“The competition (eg most solicitors and especially the Co-Op) charge eye-watering amounts, enabling you to come in lower but still make a good buck”

Despite this it is not all about cost. If it were we would all work from home uninsured and not from decent offices in an insured and regulated practice. Clients appreciate service and it is down to us to ensure our service delivery lives up to our promises and our own expectations.

Some thoughts from a user of legal services

Recently, I have been the user of legal services in a different jurisdiction (Scotland) helping a relative unused to dealing with officialdom who needed urgent help, and these are my perceptions about the service provided:

  1. Initially the person dealing with the matter was supportive and helpful. In addition to the litigation services, we needed conveyancing, an LPA and Will.
  2. It became clear that having secured the urgent court order, matters then stopped moving and the person acting was not available. I twigged that she was leaving but this was not communicated to me beforehand and I was given no replacement name until after she left.
  3. Then the person who was supposed to prepare the LPA and Will left. The replacement made no communication with my relative for over four months after taking instructions.
  4. Then the replacement litigator obviously required time to read the papers – so we lost impetus just as we needed to finalise matters.
  5. Then another department had to be involved (conveyancing) and I received confused messages from different people in the team.
  6. There was no proper communication between the different teams over a key date which came and passed and left us vulnerable to being in breach of a court order.
  7. Contradictory advice was given over the provision of mortgage funds causing great stress to everyone involved including the lawyers before we could complete the transaction.
  8. Eventually the LPA and Will were provided and completed.
  9. All the time we received monthly invoices.

My perception at the start was that the firm was large enough and equipped sufficiently to be able to provide all the services my relative needed and which was open to me being involved in support. Sadly, as more people became involved my perception of the firm was of a faceless system churning out invoices with little consideration for the practical problems their actions were causing on the ground.

What a wasted opportunity. The firm could have demonstrated a seamless service where cross- over matters were coordinated by a client contact person to avoid any confusion and delay.

Important keys to success

As the song goes “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it: that’s what gets results.” To have a satisfied client and a referrer happy to refer people to use your service remember:

SATISFACTION = PERCEPTION – EXPECTATION

I would say that this amounts to being available, being affable and having ability. Some of these traits are inherent in people and we need to support staff in developing their skills, having enough of them to keep them affable and not stressed. Availability is challenging. We must manage communications in this very busy world so that people know when and how to contact a member of the firm rather than leaving the fee earner juggling endless calls and emails and not being about to get any matter work done. Equally, any system for managing communication must include a guarantee that someone will get back to the enquirer within a reasonable time.

Let’s all seek to determine the source of any gap between client expectations and the reality of the situation or what is perceived as the reality and plug it.

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