A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

No Second Chance: The Importance of First Impressions to Law Firms

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

By Carl White, Client & Brand Director, CXINLAW

How likely is a prospective client to instruct your law firm on the basis of their first impression?

That was the question we asked CXINLAW Mystery Shoppers who made contact with over 50 Australasian firms with real legal enquiries. What we found was that 78 per cent of law firms fail the ‘first impressions test’, with only one in five providers gaining an instruction or recommendation. 

There’s no doubt that the experience clients and customers receive when first making contact with you, quite apart from what legal knowhow is provided, defines how they feel about the firm, and what they choose to do. In fact, “how do we want our customers to feel?’ is Apple’s first question and one law can learn from.

In law, use of the term ‘sale’ is needlessly provocative - but what we are talking about here is ‘point-of-sale’ and the effectiveness of your firm in managing its first impression upon prospective clients. In this way your firm is really not too dissimilar from any high street retailer or service provider. Do come to terms with that quickly. It will kill your firm if you don’t.

As with a retailer, there is of course a commercial imperative in getting your point-of-sale right and we know that firms lose thousands of dollars by getting it wrong. So wrong in fact that 45% left shoppers just as likely to call competitors and a third, who made contact due to a recommendation, permanently deterred. In this respect the findings have been described by legal practitioners as “hard-hitting” and “harrowing”.

Every firm likes to deal with clients they can help and no firm willingly tries its best to annoy clients, much like budget airlines often appear to do. What’s extremely scary then, is the degree to which law firms are sending clients they have worked hard to attract, into the arms of their competitors, often without realising they are doing so. Do you know just how many prospective clients go “ouch” when making contact with your firm?

Here are some essential learning points from our findings and work advising law firms:

What’s your firm’s key perspective?

Customer service must be in the DNA of everyone in the firm with all roles and functions responsible for excellent delivery. The starting point is the assessment of the current experience of your clients. At point-of-sale this means thoroughly understanding both the ‘utility’ and ‘soft’ aspects of the experience they receive. It’s then about engaging your staff with the findings to ensure the client is in their ‘line of sight’ at every moment.

No train, no gain

We all know what great customer service is, we know how it feels and we like it when it’s provided. The issue is that ‘business as usual’ at work often means that we neglect, forget or are frustrated by the need to deliver service excellence. This is critically the case in law. 

A solicitor recently expressed how she learnt about client service as a law student but now that she worked as senior associate, being ‘professional’ did not necessarily mean service was at the top of her list. Dealing with a client’s matter is. This point resonated with every legal ‘professional’ in the room. Does it with you? Today, the professional skills and capabilities of lawyers and support people must include customer service. The same is true of all the firms systems and processes.


It’s skills Jim, but not as we know it

Clients can teach lawyers and law firms a lot about meeting their demands, if only they’d listen. What we know from our work at point-of-sale is that your customers respond to being treated with care and empathy. You also know this as a customer yourself. You may feel that both qualities are demonstrated when a client calls, but it’s unlikely according to our research. 

Most receptionists ‘process’ calls and most lawyers ‘transact’ rather than see this first conversation as an opportunity to get to know the client. Solicitors quickly ask the default problem-solving questions without introducing themselves, asking open questions to show interest in the caller and build rapport. New clients recognise service and service skills must be taught and embedded in the firm. Most firms have no formal service training and those that do win more work and keep clients. 

Help clients buy 

I’m alluding to sales again but do not mistake that for the need to employ used-car salesmanship. Ironically, firms often give prospective clients one thing to care about, and that’s how much things cost, so who is being ‘oily’ and is it any wonder that buyers focus on the money?

Your role at point-of-sale is to help us buy by offering exceptional customer service and articulating the value in using your firm, not to sell. It’s not about giving us free advice and it’s not about being pushy. For instance, most firms we called did not set a time to make a follow up call after a positive first conversation. You’re not a ‘sales dog’ if you do, you’re being courteous and service-orientated. By being helpful you’ll also convert more clients into profitable business, by the way.

ALPMA President, Andrew Barnes said in our new report, “We exist in very competitive times. Law firm differentiators are not easy to identify, let alone leverage. Firms who rely on the personal element of relationships will do well to introduce Client Experience Excellence into their thinking.”

Taking service development seriously presents an opportunity to turn failing at First Impressions into the greenest of green fields in your pursuit of growth. But only if you and everyone at the firm can see the world as your customers do.

Editor’s note

Interested readers can watch Carl’s compelling 2015 ALPMA Summit presentation "Understanding Your Customers' Experience" on-demand for just $99 (including GST) from the ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre.


Readers can also download a free copy of CXINLAW research supported by ALPMA "No Second Chance: The Importance of First Impressions to Law Firms".

About our Guest Blogger

carl whiteCarl White is a founding director of CXINLAW in the UK and Australia. CXINLAW focus on the advantage firms gain with Client Experience Excellence and deliver client insight, strategic support and development.

Passionate about the impact of Client Experience Excellence in professional services, Carl White entered the legal sector with Ashurst in 2002. He co-authored the highly-regarded ‘Customer Experience in Law' report in 2012 and led the market-leading Australian research in 2015 which was supported by ALPMA. The research examines the Client Experience Advantage for law firms and used mystery shopping to assess law firm first impressions and likelihood of client instructions.

He has a background in employee engagement, organisational development and training within law and 15 years experience in retail operations. 

The principal focus of CXINLAW includes working strategically with firms to define service objectives, deliver client insight and improve performance against the indicators of Client Experience Excellence. Carl's role is an international one that underscores CXINLAW's commitment to being the leading Client Experience partner to the professions in Europe and Australasia. 

How to maximise your return on attendance at the ALPMA Summit

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

By Robyn Henderson, Networking To Win 

Congratulations to those of you investing in your career and your firm’s future by attending this year’s ALPMA Summit on the Gold Coast. Allowing for travel time (unless you are a Gold Coast local) this event will cost you at least three days of non-billable hours and for legal practice managers often a backlog of tasks and catch up. 

Let’s look at ways of maximising your network opportunities and your return on attendance at events like Summit.


  • Remind yourself WHY you are going, WHAT you want to achieve and HOW you are going to do that

    Let’s assume you want to identify 2-3 potential collaborators in your state/city whom you can form a potential alliance with for 2016.  Ideally you will be able to share ideas and information with each other, work together on specific matters and potentially form collaborations on an as needs basis.  Alternately your sole reason for attending is to attend one of the Masterclasses and the rest of the Summit is a bonus. One thing is for sure, if you are not clear on why you are attending, you probably won’t get a return on your investment or attendance.
  • Remember to bring your business cards
    If you are a first timer to the Summit, it may be useful for you to know that close to 300 delegates are currently registered - plus more than 150 Summit partner and exhibitor representatives.  You have the potential to meet at least 25% of those attendees over the 3 day event. Please don’t open your business card box the day you are flying out and realise you have run out – check your business card stocks today.
  • Re-read the program and highlight the sessions that you definitely don't want to miss 

    The Summit App show which sessions you have registered to attend.  If there are conflicting break-out sessions that interest you, make a note of which ones and find a break-out buddy who can share their notes with you post event. If the session you missed sounds brilliant, then remember you can purchase the on-demand recording for that session (and most other Summit sessions) from the ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre from late September.

Pro-Active Attendance

  • Go to breakfast in the trade exhibition

    Even though it may be tempting to sleep in and skip breakfast, I strongly encourage you to enjoy the complimentary breakfast in the Summit trade exhibition at the Gold Coast Convention Centre, which is centrally located and a great venue. Whether you are staying at Jupiters, the Mantra, Sofitel or Peppers, you will only be a short walk, monorail or light rail from the venue. And as breakfast is included in your registration, it is another opportunity to meet new people, reconnect with old friends and check out new legal products and services and learn from your competitors. 
  • Wear your lanyard everywhere

    Basically you want to make it easy for other delegates to identify you, know your name, where you are based and which company you are with. Remember your WHY, every best friend was once a perfect stranger.
  • Act like the host not the guest

    Whether you are a first timer at an ALPMA event or a regular, look out for the people who look a bit lost or are standing or sitting by themselves. Chances are the other managers from their firm may not be there or are delayed. Either way it’s a great opportunity for you to introduce yourself.
  • Befriend the exhibitors
    Every exhibitor at the ALPMA Summit is there because they have a product or service relevant to law firms or legal departments. Use the morning and afternoon tea breaks to check out their stands, throw your business card into their lucky stand prizes and network. Remember their networks may be quite diverse to yours and there will be heaps of cross networking opportunities – plus you get to see what new services and products available. Think beyond your firm – there may well be some exhibitors whose products may not interest you, but they are suitable for others in your networks. Collect the information and pass it on post Summit.
  • Review the list of delegates

    Use the Summit App to review the attendee list and directly message the people that you would like to meet - making it clear why you want to meet up with them at Summit. Energy follows thought – if you have no plan, you will meet random strangers, which is also fine. However, if you reach out to five people whom you would like to meet, your chances of meeting them are much more likely.  As you exchange cards with delegates, tick their names off the master delegate list. If they don’t happen to have a business card with them, that’s fine - you can still reach them via the App.
  • Take advantage of the free seating
    Free seating means that you will not have an allocated table to sit at for the Summit sessions. This will enable you to really maximise your networking. A possible networking blind-spot for you and potentially the biggest mistake you could make at the Summit is to sit at the same table with the same people for 3 days – particularly if you already know them.

    Aim to change seats and tables at least twice throughout the day. And when you meet someone whom you would like to reconnect with post Summit, gently bend the corner of their business card down so that their card will definitely stand out from the others when you get back to your office.  Note: within the Asian community bending a card can be seen as disrespectful, so you might just be aware of that too.

Professional Follow-Up

  • Aim to follow up with your new contacts within 72 hours of Summit

    Today the easiest follow up is via a LinkedIn connection invitation. Though make sure that you go to the profile page first and press the connect button from their profile. This will enable you to write a personal message, reminding them that they met you at Summit.
  • Do what you said you would do 

    Keep track of everything you promise to do for someone while at Summit - then actually do it when you get back to the office!  My research has shown that less than 25% of people actually follow up after attending a Summit or conference, make sure you are in that 25%. Some information, idea exchanges or referrals may happen within weeks, others may take longer. However, if you stay connected to your ALPMA network, you will definitely increase your chances of generating referrals and revenue.
In summary, receiving a significant return on attendance at the ALPMA Summit (and other professional development events) is easy if you are prepared to:
  1. Talk to strangers 
  2. Act like the host not the guest 
  3. Listen more than you speak.
Before you know it, you will have made some great new connections. Now all you have to do is make sure that you follow up post Summit and diarise the 2016 dates for the ALPMA Summit!

Editor's Note

The 2015 ALPMA Summit is being held from tomorrow to Friday (9 - 11 September) at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre.  If you can't attend the Summit in person, you can watch your chosen Summit presentations live and online via our livestream broadcast, generously supported by Law In Order. 

You can purchase single session Summit Live passes for $99 (including GST) each or purchase the full Summit Live package for $550 (including GST) and set-up a mini-Summit in your boardroom. If you want to see particular sessions - but just aren't available at the time of the live-broadcast, then check out the Summit On-Demand options.

About our Guest Blogger 

Robyn HendersonNetworking strategist and ghost writer, Robyn Henderson has authored and contributed to more than 25 books on networking and business development. She has spoken in 12 countries, presents over 130 times each year and has never advertised, all her work comes from networking, referrals, LinkedIn and her website

Robyn also ghost writes books, articles, eBooks and e-zines for busy professionals who prefer to outsource their writing tasks in today’s multi-tasking marketplace.

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