You can claim quality. Or you can prove it.
The 1989 recession hit the Chicago legal community hard, particularly damaging the stellar reputation of Ungaretti & Harris, one of Chicago’s leading mid-sized law firms. Five years later, the firm sought to revitalize its tarnished image, needing a bold strategy to regain its quality reputation.
To get the legal and business communities focused on the firm’s service and innovation, we developed the nation’s first written service guarantee, leading to a 50% increase in revenue in 12 months during a flat 1995 market, as the firm grew from 60-95 lawyers, becoming one of the nation’s ten fastest-growing firms according to The American Lawyer.
Client retention soared and attorney retention quadrupled, quickly leading to a well-deserved national reputation for quality, innovation, and client service.
The program received numerous awards including the ABA’s “Ethics in Advertising” award for the nation’s best ad campaign, as well as the Legal Marketing Association’s grand prize in 1996, the first-ever Best of Show award, for the nation’s best marketing campaign.
The legal profession’s first written service guarantee
A service guarantee embodies all the positive behavior law firms strive for: responsiveness, efficiency, communication, and a resolve to provide the finest technical skills. No law firm had ever offered this type of guarantee. We crafted the language carefully, to identify and motivate the most critical conduct: the continuous communication that ensures that any problems that arise are identified “promptly” and repaired to the client’s satisfaction.
We drafted the language to support one core principle: write-offs don’t keep clients satisfied, meeting their service needs and building long-term relationships do (dramatically increasing profitability).
An inaccurate, but lingering, recession-era image.
During the recession of 1989, the firm experienced significant and conspicuous downsizing. Although the firm had rebounded, the pervasive perception of continuing instability lingered. Our analysis showed that the firm had a poor client-retention record, caused in part by triple the profession’s average annual attorney turnover. The firm’s revenues had been flat for five years, but its enterprising environment was primed for creative new strategies and solutions.
Service guarantee research
Significant research across industries shows that, although they may be scary, when sincerely bestowed, service guarantees are received with integrity by customers and clients, and their terms are not abused. Professional-services clients are not looking to cheat their providers for a few bucks; they are seeking quality care and trusted relationships and take these commitments seriously. That was our overwhelming experience as well. Clients genuinely appreciated our offer, and the existence of our guarantee caused our professionals to “up their game.”
- Create a dynamic, differentiated firm image, and
- Continuously improve the firm’s service to increase client satisfaction and retention.
Perception had lagged behind the firm’s revitalization. We wanted to rebuild the market’s opinion of the firm, to aid business-development and recruiting, and to build this recognition around high-quality client service, like Nordstrom’s or Federal Express.
Other important goals include:
- Increase revenue and profits
- Improve attorney retention by showing that the grass is greener at this unique firm
- Grow strategically, to serve client needs
Follow a strategic, integrated marketing and business model.
We planned to implement the guarantee and use both creative advertising and vigorous media relations to amplify the message that this is a high-quality, innovative, and service-oriented firm. We began with proprietary market research (383 metro-area purchasers of legal services), finding that inadequate communication caused most problems in attorney/client relationships. We also found that 80% of dissatisfied clients take their business elsewhere.
Therefore, we crafted the guarantee’s language to reinforce and reward the close communication that “promptly” identifies any hidden problems so we can repair the issue immediately and improve the relationship. It creates credible evidence of our service and (indirectly) of our technical skills, without simply declaring it as an unsubstantiated conclusion. It is a legally binding client contract–a firm-wide mission statement with sharp teeth.
Aggressive Media Relations. Being the first firm to offer such a guarantee should garner significant media attention. We actively courted the media, and dozens of positive feature stories greatly magnified the reach of our message, from Crain’s Chicago Business to The New York Times.
Targeted Advertising. We developed a bold yet corporate ad campaign to run in The Wall Street Journal and Crain’s Chicago Business.
- We became one of the nation’s 10 fastest-growing law firms.
- In just one year, during a stagnant legal market, and following 5 flat years:
- Revenues jumped 50%, compared to the profession’s 2% average growt
- We grew by 50%, from 65 to 95 attorneys, compared to the profession’s 2% average growth. According to a source at a national management consulting company, this ranked us among the nation’s 10 fastest growing firms
- Attorney retention increased 400%, to just half the profession’s average attorney turnover
- Client retention increased significantly
- 20+ positive feature articles were written about the firm, from The New York Times and the local business press, to The American Lawyer and the ABA Journal
- Success in new-business competitions increased from 15% to 50%, generating millions of dollars in fees
- High-quality lateral hires attracted
Why this is successful
Before beginning, we determined that given the choice between equally qualified law firms, most would choose the firm that offered a service guarantee.