The economic downtown has certainly hit the legal market hard. People have lost jobs and job openings are still in short supply. There is no denying that has been a challenging time. However, the downturn has also forced attorneys to reevaluate their approach to practicing law – and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Law school helps people learn the law and law firms have taught new associates how to become good technical attorneys. There is no substitute for thoroughly understanding and being able to apply your trade. That said, what generally was missing from this equation is the business side of practicing law. Most attorneys understand the importance of marketing even if they lack the desire to do it. What I am talking about is something we are all capable of and is relatively easy: customer service.
The economic downturn has led businesses to reconsider what law firms to use and how often to use them. Geographic barriers are not as strong either so businesses can look to different markets to find legal help too. Assuming most firms employ people that have
good technical skills, the decision making process mostly boils down to bill rates (a topic unto itself) and customer service. In fact, I would argue that good customer service can overcome a moderate different difference in bill rates. If the work is done adequately and the rates are roughly equivalent, then what separates one firm the next is the overall experience for the client. Those firms that have relied too much on decades-long relationships, and who have grown complacent in their customer service, are now losing out firms who understand the importance of treating clients well. This is not a novel concept, nor a difficult one to employ. It can be as simple as returning calls/emails in a timely fashion, visiting with existing clients even when you are not “on the clock”, explaining bills more thoroughly, etc.
The downturn has forced attorneys not to take clients for granted and re-enforced the need for good customer service. So if there is an upside to the downturn it is this: it has forced attorneys to become better at the business side of practicing law.