Sell the problems you solve

Sometimes no amount of client listening will uncover a problem of which the client wasn’t aware - or had even contemplated there might be a solution. This is where technology comes in, says Weightman’s Stuart Whittle, not just in problem solving but in doing it a scale and with minimal cost to the client.

Stuart Whittle, Partner, Weightmans

As with many firms, we have ongoing, formal, client listening programmes run by external advisors. In the future we will add to this capability internally by using some of our senior equity partners who are going through a programme to ensure that we approach client listening consistently.

To ensure we don’t mark our own homework, partners will only undertake the exercise with clients for whom they do not work. In addition, we regularly seek feedback on a statistically significant sample of the many thousands of matters we handle each year. Our steering groups ensure we are meeting clients’ needs. They then take all that feedback and, in turn, are tasked with ensuring that we act on it.

All of this is great and hugely valuable and, as a rule, we generally get great feedback; overall, out of 10, we score 9.3 on average across all our clients. That said, a client listening programme isn’t the be all and end all when it comes to understanding and meeting their needs.

As a data led, technology driven, innovative law firm we’ve had successes in developing products used by clients that no amount of client listening would have uncovered as either the client wasn’t even aware of the problem, or they hadn’t contemplated that there might be a solution.

Those successes have not come from client listening programmes per se but from individuals in the firm who understand their clients’ market, understand the clients - and their challenges - and can then think creatively around the subject.

They’re able to match our internal capabilities with the clients’ challenges and then put together multi-disciplinary teams (and I don’t mean teams of lawyers with different specialism but people within our business services functions) and take a product management approach to build solutions for and, in some cases, with clients.

As the law relating to holiday pay changed, one client with a large workforce was experiencing a high volume of claims relating to holiday pay and outsourced that work to us. The partner responsible for the project put together a multidisciplinary team that rapidly built workflows in our case management system to help us handle claims and which enabled us to capture “meta-data” i.e., discrete bits of data about each matter.

The client hadn’t asked us to do this as part of the outsourced work but the partner running the project knew that we had the capability to use that data to provide value to the client through the provision of dashboards. These dashboards helped the client’s in-house counsel get a high level, visual, understanding of the pattern of claims.

In addition, the data visualisation enabled us to identify a local “hot spot” of claims being made. Given the volume of claims we were handling – and but for our decision to collect data and plug that into our data-visualisation platform - neither us nor the client would have identified this. The information would simply have been lost. Having seen the issue, we investigated the reason, recommended actions that the client could take and agreed a process that ensured those claims did not result in litigation, thus reducing the overall cost of the claims to the client.

“As a data led, technology driven, innovative law firm we’ve had successes in developing products used by clients that no amount of client listening would have uncovered as either the client wasn’t even aware of the problem, or they hadn’t contemplated that there might be a solution.”

We have a similar client, with a large, distributed work force who are managed locally at hundreds of individual sites. The client’s local managers generally handle local employment issues not least because the in-house team simply isn’t geared up to advise on every matter.

The law relating to some of these employment issues is very technical and if the client’s local managers don’t apply the process and deal with the issues as the law requires, naturally that can result in claims. Seeing this, having worked with the client for many years and understanding our internal capability, one of our partners put together a multi-disciplinary team and created an app that is now rolled out to all the client’s managers (nearly 10,000 in total).

The app steps the local manager through the process to help them get the procedural aspects of the issue right, ensuring they treat the employee fairly and thereby reducing potential claims and any subsequent reputational damage.

That example is a great one in which technology can help. The solution to the challenge was repeatable and predictable and it needed to be done at scale at a minimal cost to the client. Again, all the client listening in the world wouldn’t have uncovered that as a need.

We have had other successes within the firm including creating a fixed fee employment advisory service, fixed-fee complaints handling products in our education and healthcare sectors as well as a reserving tool for insurance claims that utilises predictive analytics that some might badge as AI.

But all of these have tended to be one-offs and, frankly, quite hard work to get off the ground not least because all the partners driving it have a day job to do as well.

Having seen these successes and the impact we can have for our clients and very much increasingly seeing clients across all our segments being interested in how we can develop products to help them meet their challenges, we have taken the strategic decision to systemise those learnings across each of the seven segments with which we face the market.

Nearly 20 years ago, a consultant to the legal market once told me that, in a law firm, “if it isn’t someone’s job, it doesn’t get done”; to an extent that remains true.

So, we are building a team of our best problem solvers and most creative partners who will be aligned to our segments and coached by our product manager. Their role will be to replicate the process where we’ve had successes. Namely, immersing themselves with our clients and their market - and being on top of our internal capabilities and the capabilities of organisations with whom we partner.

They will be tasked with making some bets on products that they think will solve clients’ challenges at a price that clients are prepared to pay and that we are able to deliver profitably.

They will be the owners for the products they develop and will take their ideas, test those ideas in the market, build prototypes to test with the market, develop those prototypes into minimal viable products that can be launched to the market with a specific go-to market approach and then iterate and develop the products over time.

Maybe I will come back in a year and tell you how we got on!