This series explores the ins and outs of Legal Intake & Triage – and how a few adjustments to the process can improve your operations, service and morale. Today’s topic: Client communication.
How is a Legal Department like an amusement park?
Although we recognize that in-house practice can be a wild ride, it’s not a trick question: Both have to manage wait times. Indeed, according to The GC350, a benchmarking study by the Law Society of England and Wales, more Legal Departments seek business clients’ feedback about their speed of response than their decision-making abilities.
Your Legal Intake & Triage framework can borrow a few best practices from the school of queue management – the study of how humans behave in line for a bank teller, an airline check-in counter or….a roller coaster.
Consider these principles from David Maister’s signature essay, The Psychology of Waiting Lines:
People want to get started. As Maister writes, “one’s ‘anxiety’ level is much higher while waiting to be served than it is while being served, even though the latter wait may be longer. There is a fear of ‘being forgotten.’ How many times has the reader gone back to a maître d’ to check that his or her name is still on the list?”
The best Legal Department systems take this into account by engaging business clients at the beginning. Our white paper, 12 Steps to a Smarter Legal Intake & Triage, will show you how to help your clients “get started” with standardized legal instruction forms and methods for document collection. (Bonus: this makes your job easier, too, by giving you everything you need at the beginning.)
Anxiety makes waits seem longer. Clients need reassurance that the matter will actually be handled. Maister noted the example of airlines that make on-board announcements that connecting planes will be held for late-arriving flights.
As you set out to improve your Legal Intake & Triage, think about the life cycle of a matter from the client perspective. Your business units don’t need to know (and probably don’t care) how the work is assigned or what precedent your Legal Department has in place. What will affect their experience? Basic communication about the matter’s milestones:
- Did you get my request?
- Who is taking care of me?
- Did it actually get done?
Savvy systems can maintain client calm with regular updates. Plan to send messages to your business clients to acknowledge receipt, provide a contact and confirm completion – at the least.
Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits. “The most profound source of anxiety in waiting is how long the wait will be,” Maister writes. He notes if patients are told a doctor will be 30 minutes late, they will be annoyed but accept it; if they are told the doctor will be “free soon,” they will “spend the whole time in a state of nervous anticipation, unable to settle down, afraid to depart and come back.”
The key is to manage expectations. To be sure, it’s hard to guarantee turnaround times for complex or unique matters. However, your Legal Department likely has a set of non-complex, low-strategic-value matters that it handles on a routine basis. Examine these projects – nondisclosure agreements, for instance, or trademark clearance searches. Review your metrics and calculate an average turnaround time. (Need a primer on Legal Department metrics? Check out Xakia’s free guide, In-House Legal Data Analytics for Beginners.)
An advanced-level Legal Intake & Triage system will incorporate templates and workflows based on these common types of work; this can include automated messages with simple estimates for turnaround time (along with instructions for how to request emergency attention).
Maister noted the adage that “products are consumed, services are experienced.” To this end, your Legal Department is no different than Walt Disney World; some smart queue management can bring happy visitors and a positive reputation. No mascots or funnel cakes necessary.