I have previously written about the value of peer review as a quality control process within the law firm setting. In this post I would like to go in a slightly different direction because seasoned partners, if they are open to running with peer review at all, tend to want to view the peer review process as more of an educational tool for associates and they’ll leave it at that. Personally I find that a bit short sighted because a good percentage of reported claims are the result of a partner’s misstep, not an associate’s; but I digress.
Regardless of whether your firm conducts peer review, I would have you consider looking at two other valuable sources of information, namely staff and clients. Developing some sort of review process that invites feedback from these folks can make a real difference. At the conclusion of representation on files selected for review, you might ask staff to comment on the level of professionalism that they saw demonstrated by the attorney toward staff and clients throughout the representation. Were calls returned in a timely fashion? How about the attorney’s response to requests for information or assistance from both staff and clients? Were tasks timely assigned and with adequate instruction? Was the attorney available and approachable for training, guidance, or clarification on any instructions given? From the staff’s perspective, how might the attorney/client relationship have been improved? If you really stop to think about it, this would be valuable and relevant information because an attorney’s poor performance on any of this can directly impact the bottom line.
With clients you should ask for candid and honest feedback outside of the presence of the responsible attorney(s). Ask questions like how did it go? Were responses to all client inquiries timely? Did the attorney exhibit professionalism in his or her presentation and interactions? Did the client feel that they and their matter were important to the attorney? Were bills easy to read, easy to understand, and did they provide enough information? Did the communication that occurred throughout the course of representation provide sufficient information? Did they understand all that was going on? How might services be improved? Again, the answers to such questions provide valuable information that is too often never sought.
Think about it. The majority of malpractice claims are brought by clients. Doesn’t it make sense to try to understand how effective your firm is at delivering any and all promised products and services to your clientele. You can only get that kind of information by asking for it. It makes sense from a risk management perspective, a business perspective, even a training perspective. I would also argue that asking a client to review the firm’s performance can enhance client loyalty because it demonstrates that client opinions matter and that the firm is open to hearing criticism for the purpose of bettering itself.
Now I can appreciate that for some attorneys what I am suggesting here is too much. This kind of process can and will push the comfort zone for many of us at times, including myself. After all, who wants to hear that our own opinion of how we did isn’t the reality of the situation and more could have been done? In response, let me share a personal perspective. I have been a client of a few attorneys over the years. When I needed an attorney, I wanted someone who was the best that I could find. At least for me, and I would bet for many clients, one aspect of getting the best involves finding an attorney who is able to demonstrate a high level of confidence. I don’t want to worry about my attorney feeling less than completely confident during contract negotiations or while trying a case and I can’t think of anything that exhibits a greater level of confidence than someone who is willing to take an open, honest, and candid look at their performance. I have respect for any person who can look me in the eye and ask to know the truth about their performance; but here’s the kicker. I also appreciate that the very act of asking for my feedback demonstrates the inquirer’s respect for me and my opinion. That’s powerful stuff if done well.