Author:Bollman, Amber
Position:Cover story

It's a remark from in-house counsel to which Steve Boutwell, director of client services at Kean Miller, has grown accustomed since launching his firm's client interview program in 2007.

Boutwell, who visits 20 to 30 clients in-person each year, generally closes each interview by asking clients if they have any questions or comments for him.

"So often, that's the first thing out of their mouths: 'This has been a fantastic experience. Why are you the only ones who have come out and asked to interview us?'" said Boutwell, whose 150-attorney firm is based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. "We've found that doing client interviews and soliciting genuine feedback from our clients--not going out to pitch, push back or defend someone, but to ask meaningful questions about how our relationships can be improved--has given us a real competitive advantage. In my mind, it's probably one of the most valuable things a marketer can push for within his or her firm."

Among legal marketing professionals whose firms have implemented client feedback or client interview initiatives, it's a common refrain: Clients, almost without exception, appreciate the opportunity to provide input and wish law firms asked for their opinions more frequently.

Jennifer Petrone Dezso, principal at BTI Consulting Group, regularly asks law firm marketing professionals whether they have a process in place for gathering client feedback.

"Every year, the number goes up," said Dezso, who has been involved in hundreds of market assessments and client feedback initiatives for law firms. "But it's still not as prevalent as you would think. It can still very much be a differentiator, and particularly, if firms are doing a good job acting on the feedback they receive, it can strengthen client relationships."

Overcoming the Fear Factor

When Amy Oldiges became director of marketing and business development at Chicago-based Goldberg Kohn in 2010, the firm had taken a hiatus from its client interview program, responding to a downturn in the legal market and in the economy. Oldiges spent more than a year laying the groundwork to revive the program.

"We hear a lot about the value of client feedback within LMA, so during that period when we weren't doing interviews, I was thinking, 'We have to get this program going again. We're falling behind,'" Oldiges said.

Even though Goldberg Kohn had past experience with a client feedback program, some partners were still reluctant to embrace the idea of sending someone out to speak with their clients.

"There was definitely a fear factor at first," Oldiges said.

Fortunately, she was able to start small and found an internal champion, a senior partner who allowed her to first try interviews with a handful of his clients before rolling out the program more broadly.

"That allowed us to tweak things as needed and really detail how the process would go for other partners," Oldiges said. "They also got the benefit of hearing about the type of feedback we received and how valuable it could be in identifying opportunities to better serve the client."

Eric Armstrong, who moved from a business development role last year into the position of client service manager at...

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