Consider the following scenario: You have had your car repaired at a new local garage. A week or two later, your neighbor, curious about whether she should also use this new garage asks, “Did the fix the car?”

“I think so,” you reply. “It seems to be running smoothly, so I guess they did a good job.” Then your neighbor asks a second question:

“Did you get good service?”

What does this second question mean? Surely, fixing the is the service, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. Fixing the car is part of it, and an important part it is, but by itself it doesn’t constitute good service.”

– David H. Maister, Managing the Professional Service Firm

Quality of work matters. Law firms need to produce exceptional work product if they hope to succeed in today’s cut-throat marketplace. But technical quality does not necessarily translate into service quality. Yes, a client might retain a firm to defend it from a lawsuit and the technical quality of the defense is paramount. But nearly as is important is the perception of that service from the client’s perspective.

Is the client well informed? Are they able to have their questions quickly and easily answered? Is the fee arrangement clear and understandable? Has there been advice on how to avoid similar situations in the future? A myriad of other questions and problems may present themselves to the client and it is the professional service firm’s responsibility to anticipate, meet, and exceed any expectations or problems the client may have.

It is also impossible to to have one set response to client service with which to broadly paint all clients. Maister provides another, real world example:

“One lawyer in a large firm relates the following anecdote: One of tour competitors [in real estate transactions] makes it a common practice to get a copy of the deal into the hands of their client within twenty-four hours of the closing of the deal. We think we write better contracts with more protection for our clients, but there is no denying that their clients are impressed. We are told they have a better reputation for quality of service than we do.”

One firm believes it provides better technical service, but the other firm provides a level of service that is perceived as superior by clients. Why the disconnect? A failure to manage a client’s expectations at the very beginning of the engagement. A miscommunication about the level of service and diligence put forth by the firm. A failure by the firm to understand the client’s needs and desires.

A firm can’t just provide sound technical work and hope for it to be enough. There must be a systemic level of commitment to providing quality service firm-wide. The first step to achieving this level of service? Do everything like you give a damn.

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