By Jordan L. Couch.
How much are your cases really worth? You probably have an estimate of the profits you’ll make and you might even have an estimate of time it will take but there’s more to a case’s value than quantitative measures of time and money. How do you measure the aspects that aren’t so easily reduced to numbers, the qualitative value of your case? How do you measure the emotional toll a case takes on you and your staff? How do you track the goodwill of past clients that become referral sources? This article explores the lesser known elements that lawyers need to consider as they assess the value of a case and ways lawyers can track and measure a more comprehensive case value. As boss likes to remind us “what’s measured is managed.”
Lawyers think a lot about client fit before they take on a case, but what about after? Many lawyers are hesitant to think too hard about client fit once the contracts are signed because they feel trapped. But even if you can’t dismiss a bad client, recognizing issues early is an important aspect in understanding the value of the case. Poorly fit clients require more time and effort to reach the same conclusion.
The simplest way to assess client fit is to just ask your clients. Have an automated system to request feedback on a monthly or quarterly basis. Take the time to occasionally ask your clients “How am I doing?” and really listen to their answers. In assessing client feedback it’s important that at least some of your data is anonymous.
Client fit is a top way street so as often as you ask your clients for feedback, you should ask yourself and your staff the same questions. It can be hard for people to honestly assess their own feelings so it can be helpful to ask less direct questions. Instead of asking staff which clients they dislike, ask them which cases they would trade to another staff member if they could. This question models an experiment economists regularly use to assess the true value of goods and it can be very helpful in determining the true value of your cases. The more a case is worth, the worse the client fit will have to be for a staff member to want to trade it.
In the words of Big Tom Callahan, “you’re either growing or you’re dying, there ain’t no third direction.” Whether you agree with this or not, there can be no question that most attorneys want their firm to grow. A lot of us have likely taken cases not for their dollar value, but for their value in potential referrals. Where many lawyers are lacking is in defining a method to track their referrals, and to assess a client’s likelihood of becoming a referral source.
Net promoter score (NPS) is the most common tool for measuring the strength of your referral network. It starts with a simple question to your clients: On a scale of 1-10 how likely are you to refer your friends to my firm? 9s and 10s are considered promoters, 7 and 8 are neutral and 1-6 are detractors. To calculate your NPS you take the percentage of promoter responses and subtract the percentage of detractor responses the higher your number, the more your referrals are powering growth. Odds are you’ve been asked this question many times already by various services you use. Though it may seem like a somewhat arbitrary question it has been widely tested with consistent results in various industries.
NPS alone isn’t enough to really assess the value of individual cases. Someone may be willing to recommend you but, if they don’t know anyone, that willingness has little value. Every time a new potential client calls my office we ask them who referred them to us. That name (along with a lot of other data) is stored in a searchable database. In addition to providing useful information on its own, a database like this can be compared against your NPS to help determine the tangible referral value of a case.
No matter how much you love it, legal work is emotionally draining and it’s important to take that into account as you assess the value of a case. This is one of the more difficult data points to track, especially on a case-by-case basis. Asking yourself and your staff which cases they would trade is a start but it only gets you part of the way there. Some of my favorite cases were also some of my most emotionally draining.
Consider instituting a regular checkup with staff in your office. It can be as simple as asking people how they feel about work each week with a series of emoji faces to chose from. Or you can have people once a month reflect on which cases have been hardest for them and which the most rewarding. This sort of data can take time to collect, but it’s a lot easier than having to retrain staff every year due to high burnout.
Conclusion: How To Use Your New Data
Collecting all of the data discussed above is pointless if you don’t regularly analyze it and put it to good use. Thankfully, there are a lot of things you can do to fix the problems your data identifies.
- Talk to the clients whose attitude and frustrations are decreasing the value of their case. If you can improve their relationship with your firm, the value of the case can be raised just as it is by hiring a good expert witness.
- Move the client to a new staff member. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work in solo offices, but where there are multiple people handling cases, this can be extremely effective. Sometimes people have personalities that just don’t mesh and it becomes a drain on your client and your staff. A simple staff trade can solve the problem with little to no interruptions in case progress.
- Terminate the client. Obviously, this should be a last result, but most lawyers are more reticent to terminate a client than they should be. The more work we put into a case, the more the ‘sunk costs’ fallacy tells us not to give up. Having consistent data can help you recognize the issue early and let clients go before it gets difficult.
At the end of the day, money and time will always be the most significant factors in determining case value but that shouldn’t mean that they are the only factors you consider. The ideas discussed above are only a small sample of the possible data points you can collect as you begin to dive deeper into the value of your cases.
Jordan L. Couch is an attorney and cultural ambassador at Palace Law where his practice focuses on plaintiff’s side workers’ compensation litigation. In his spare time, Jordan seeks out new ways to build a more modern, client-centric law practice. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on social media @jordanlcouch.