Today’s client is sophisticated. They have high standards, good working knowledge of the legal services they require, and in-house capabilities like never before. They expect partnership and shared insight, not a wizard attorney who works behind a curtain.
This is a positive development. It drives innovation and cooperation, ultimately pushing the effectiveness of legal teams to new heights. But it is no small feat to meet these demands. Often, the burden of accelerating a firm’s capabilities in areas that are ripe for innovation—including e-discovery—lands largely on litigation support teams.
At Relativity Fest 2020, we wanted to help these teams take control of their client service strategy and deliver truly exceptional results. David Disch, a customer success manager at Relativity, moderated the session “Exceptional Client Service in e-Discovery: How to Improve Your Game, Regardless of Job Title.” He was joined by McDermott Will & Emery’s Martha Louks and Alex Godofsky, the firm’s director of technology services and discovery consultant, respectively.
Martha and Alex emphasized a few critical considerations for crafting better client service, including recognizing external and internal clients, effective communication tactics, and anticipating needs rather than responding to requests.
Serving Colleagues and Clients
Alex began with an important reminder that both external and internal clients need similar respect and attention.
“The approach you might take between the two may not be the same,” he said. “But your end goal is the same: Provide exceptional service that helps them achieve their end goals.”
All three speakers agreed that, while litigation support professionals have historically felt low on the totem pole, this sentiment is evolving rapidly in many firms.
“Lit support professionals often feel like they’re at the bottom of a hierarchy, but I think it’s important to note that e-discovery and the introduction of technology into legal services has been a democratizing element for the culture as well as the delivery of results for law firms,” David said.
Martha concurred: “It’s important as an e-discovery professional to recognize that you bring something critical to the table. Your skills and experience are really important,” she said. “There are rules of conduct for attorneys in many states that require the duty of technical competency. They need to keep up with changes, benefits, and risks in their practice, and if they’re not able to understand it or deeply know the details themselves, they need to partner with technologists like you.”
This gives litigation support teams more prominence when it comes to case strategy as well as client service.
For external clients, Alex reminded the audience that good representation falls on their shoulders as well as the lawyers’.
“Whenever you’re working with an external client, you represent your firm. The client may not think of you any differently than a partner or main attorney on their case,” he said. “They may not even recognize if you’re in lit support, or if you’re not an attorney yourself. Be professional and keep that relationship for the firm in mind.”
Internally, preserving positive relationships is just as important.
“Internal clients are the partners, attorneys, and paralegals we support who are providing legal counsel. These are not just any coworkers—these are clients just the same,” Alex continued. “Attorneys have lots of options for where they can go for e-discovery and litigation support services, so it’s important to provide these coworkers with excellent client service as well.”
Doing so fills a critical business function for your firm, and underscores your value for the firm’s bottom line.
Keeping Communications—and Expectations—Clear as Day
If the “why” behind exceptional client service is better results, the “how” is good communication.
For Martha, that means both setting clear and realistic expectations, and conducting level-headed discussions with clients.
Her ground rule? “Always be respectful and professional. People can be difficult and challenging to work with in our space—I’m sure everyone here has stories. But some basic tactics will foster effective communication across all scenarios.”
Those tactics include staying calm (and taking space to get there before responding to a contentious email, if necessary), asking peers to review communications for tone before sending, and getting in the habit of not taking things personally.
“It’s not about you—it’s just about working through a case, getting projects done, and moving forward,” Martha reminded Fest attendees. “Take a growth mindset and look at these challenges as opportunities. Even if they go poorly, it’s an opportunity to learn how to get better and grow this skill.”
In today’s world, effective communication habits are especially crucial when it comes to costs.
“It’s a lot easier to have a difficult conversation over a potential expense, rather than a difficult conversation after a client has received a bill and is experiencing sticker shock,” Martha explained. Litigation support teams should be transparent about the potential costs of a project, and keep clients well informed of changes at each stage.
Sharing the details of a project and advising on potential strategies also helps empower internal clients.
“From the standpoint of helping your colleagues grow professionally, explain what you’re doing and give them details of how it fits into the case,” Martha suggested. “It will help elevate them, in addition to making projects more collaborative and effective.”
Going Above and Beyond
Naturally, the most memorable service experiences emerge when you’re able to wow your clients.
To get to the “wow” moments, however, you need to start with the basics: understanding what your client truly needs to get out of your engagement, and how you can leverage your unique skills to deliver on that.
“You’re never going to be able to meet a client’s needs until you can understand how your skills and expertise can advance the project to achieve their strategy on time and on budget,” Martha said.
This means clear and frequent conversations about the end goal of a project and how it changes based on the facts and circumstances of the case.
Martha pointed out that neither litigation support teams nor case attorneys know what they don’t know.
“Attorneys may not be aware of how their strategy and productions may inform the work we’re doing in lit support,” she said. Likewise, litigation support teams may not know when to pivot based on adjusted strategies or court instructions unless they have an open door for discussing such updates with the attorneys on the case.
“The ways you manage your technology and processes are going to be influenced by priorities, goals, risks, and concerns from the case team—so rather than take the same approach on every predictive coding project, it’s really important to get as much information up front as possible about their overall case strategy,” Alex said. “Then, I can better advise on what processes and tools will work best, and how we leverage the results.”
Armed with these details, litigation support teams can strategize on ways to not just meet a client’s minimum requirements, but exceed their expectations on how efficiently they can achieve their end goals.
As the project iterates, Alex continued, it’s key to continue checking in and working collaboratively with other members of the case team to leverage these insights as effectively as possible, and come up with helpful suggestions to keep things on track.
“Our clients are expecting us to anticipate their needs, issues, and questions. Have a consultative mindset and use your intuition and expertise, but engage with them to think of the bigger picture, share ideas that might be helpful, and discuss things as a team,” he said. This will ensure well-rounded awareness of all facets of a project, driving better solutions to challenges that emerge along the way.
“Attorneys may not know the right questions to ask, or the first step to try, or what solutions are out there,” Alex noted. “Keep in mind their larger goal, and steer toward better and innovative solutions that can help.”
Remember: Your expertise can provide critical direction to a project when looming deadlines or unexpected volumes of data threaten to drive it way off course.
“Always think about what they client truly needs, and you might find it’s different than what they’re asking for,” Alex concluded.