Summary: Law firm transparency promotes greater trust and support from clients, employees, and the general public.
A new trend is growing that can be quite scary for law firms. The demand for transparency is being made at every level, starting from governments down to one person operations. Being transparent is not something law firms want to hear, because they rely on secrecy and client confidentiality. However, their processes do not have to remain secret. Lawyers are placed in a high position of trust by their clients and employees, and that trust cannot be tainted in any way.
Keeping strict client confidentiality rules are a must for law firms. These rules are the foundation on which the industry is built. Without the privilege and confidentiality, clients will not be honest with their attorneys and will then not receive the best possible legal advice. But there are parts of the legal system that can be opened up and will actually improve efficiency. Law firm employees will also benefit greatly from greater transparency.
The International Legal Technology Association reported that 91 percent of respondents expect transparency of legal processes to increase because of client needs. Here are three ways law firms can become more transparent:
- Use Technology to Give Clients and Employees More Access. A big part of law firms becoming more transparent starts with technology. Providing clients with access to information and documents at any time of the day allows them to feel involved. Giving them access also reduces the amount of time spent answering phone calls and emails from them asking for the information, because now they can get it themselves. Attorneys at the firm should also be given greater access to the new technology tools being used at your law firm, and should be very involved in the process.
- Implement a Fixed Fee Structure for Some Matters and Train Employees on More Transparent Billing. Another part of improving transparency is in the billing process. The billing costs from big law firms have grown to extreme proportions that leave many questioning if they are worth it. DLA Piper was accused several years ago of inflating bills by overstaffing and performing unnecessary work. Don’t let your law firm fall under the same accusations. Consider adopting a fixed fee structure for common matters to eliminate the question of what these services cost.
With the issue of money and where that money goes, opening up more transparent and visual billing to the client will ease concerns that an attorney is misappropriating funds and running off with their money without doing any work. There are plenty of examples in the news of this type of thing happening. Allowing clients to see exactly where their money is going will lessen the chances of the money disappearing. Make sure you train attorneys properly when implementing this process for it to be successful.
- Teach Your Lawyers to Better Serve Clients by Sharing Their Techniques with Others. With greater transparency comes greater client satisfaction and trust. To join the ranks of the innovative and forward-thinking law firms, try adopting a process where techniques, tools, and templates are shared with competitors, and especially clients. Steve Degnan of Nestle Purina and CHRO said, “Transparency is happening in every thread of society. Big companies get painted as evil at times, and it’s easy for startups to maneuver around because they’re not held to the same level of scrutiny.”
Law firms are held to a high level of scrutiny because so much is at stake for the clients. When lawyers come together to form an open-source of information, their clients will be served better by being able to see what is being done for them. Open-source can help solve some common problems so that additional resources can be used on other problems. Competition between law firms will be increased, because now they can direct their resources into innovations that help customers and add value to the firm instead of wasting time and money on trivial things.
Currently, law firms would rather give the same survey out 50 times and offer the same solutions to 50 clients instead of giving the solution one time to be shared among each of their clients. The idea of one solution makes sense, but it will take strong leadership and allowing for a few mistakes to make it work. Opening communication methods between clients and attorneys will ultimately improve trust. Both sides of the table need to understand the risks and rewards in a more transparent relationship.