In a nondescript, fluorescent-bulb-lit conference room located somewhere in the depths of Corporate America, a group of executives exchange light banter and laughter, awaiting the start of a meeting. Then, upon the entrance of the new assistant general counsel, the joviality immediately ceases and one of the executives half-jokingly proclaims: “Everyone shush! Our lawyer is here!” Everyone laughs at the comment at the corporate counsel’s expense; the stereotypes and jokes about attorneys persist and are well-known. Corporate counsel are not immune from the perceptions: The legal department is the Department of No, and at best, the Department of Slow. For your own legal department, do these stereotypes hold weight? How satisfied are your internal clients with the level of service you and your legal team provide? To answer this question and more, legal departments are turning to a new pool of data to drive action and change: the legal department client satisfaction survey. In addition to the metrics discussed in earlier articles of this series, including data related to legal matters and department staffing, more departments are deploying internal surveys to measure opinions of the legal service provided by the department to the company. This article will share best practices and considerations as you shape your own legal department client satisfaction survey.
Why conduct a legal department client satisfaction survey in the first place? Because no news isn’t always good news.
Much focus has been placed on metrics to better manage workloads and legal spend. While these are important key performance indicators for the legal department to collect, the opinions of those colleagues regarding the level and quality of legal service provided to them is equally valuable, especially if your aim as a service provider is to continually improve your service levels. These surveys not only serve to validate those things the department is doing well, but also can unearth those areas in which the department can improve. Often if there is no feedback from clients, everyone assumes they’re doing a great job. Meanwhile, clients may be complaining behind the scenes to others about the legal department’s performance. Of course, each legal department will have unique objectives; accordingly, it is important to understand and articulate specific goals for your survey. Are you interested in learning about perceptions regarding response times? Or, quality of legal advice? Overall performance? Spending some quality time outlining the objectives for the legal department client satisfaction survey will be time well spent.
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The short answer is to create a sample size that is meaningful, significant, and provides you a rich pool of data and information. Alternatively, the quantitative answer to this question will vary by each legal department. Some departments distribute the survey to a limited pool of respondents based on title (for instance, only vice presidents and above); other departments opt on sending it to all company employees with whom the department has interacted within the year. In his blog post about creating a legal department client satisfaction survey, veteran general counsel Sterling Miller shared his department’s decision to survey every employee in the company, stating, “I know the employee base felt better about the department because we included them and asked for their opinion. … That goodwill alone was valuable to me.”
Notwithstanding the importance of creating a large enough pool of employees to receive the legal department client satisfaction survey, each recipient should be confident their responses will remain confidential and their identity will not be tied to any specific answer or feedback, unless the recipient chooses to make his identify known. Consider adding a question at the end of the survey giving the user the option to provide contact information if they are willing to be contacted regarding their responses. However, in order to achieve a high response rate as well as quality, honest feedback, confidentiality is imperative.
Finally, while confidentiality is imperative, many departments add questions to better weigh responses; these questions are not to facilitate the identification of respondents, but to identify those respondents whose answers are based on frequency of engagement with the legal department. Consider adding a question that asks: Is your title VP or above? Or regarding frequency, consider adding this question: My contact with the legal department has been (a) continuous (every week); (b) regular (monthly); (c) irregular (less than once a month); (d) not at all; or (e) other [with explanation].
The objectives outlined above will, of course, drive the types of questions to be included in the survey. Questions can cover topics related to accessibility, response time, clarity of communication, or training on rules and regulations, as a few examples. Many of these types of questions can be statements, to which a respondent can evaluate across a spectrum from Excellent to Poor. The ACC provides an excellent sample of questions to consider. More importantly, seek the input of your legal department colleagues along with a group of stakeholders to help formulate the questions; understand what unmet needs or questions they have that might be answered through this client satisfaction survey. Additionally, use the survey as an opportunity not only to look back and facilitate improvements of legal service, but also as an opportunity to prepare for the future. Consider asking questions that allow you to forecast legal service needs in the future. For instance, consider seeking a response to the question: The level of legal services my colleagues and I will need in the coming years will: (a) stay about the same as it is now; (b) grow to some degree; (c) grow a great deal. Finally, be sure to include open text boxes, so internal clients can share with you, in their own words and narrative, their feedback.
Now comes the fun part: slicing and dicing the information and analyzing the survey data. Are there patterns in the data that immediately jump out to you? This may not be the case in the first year, and it may merely give you a baseline to evaluate future years. What story is being told by this cut of data? Based on your analysis, identify areas for greatest improvement and enhancement. Then ask yourself: What activities and changes can you put in place to respond to the feedback?
Once you have digested this information independently, consider how you’ll share it with the greater legal department team. Seek their input on actions to put in place to respond to the feedback or to change the perception. Make sure to share the feedback with your leadership team along with a cut of the data to the rest of the company. This creates transparency and a deeper understanding while also promoting the fact that your legal department is open and responsive to feedback.
Finally, once an action plan has been scoped out, be sure to have legal department attorneys and staff accountable to it; encourage them to create SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound) that are responsive to the internal client survey feedback. In doing so, they will also enjoy the pride of measuring improved performance with the launch of each successive legal department client satisfaction survey. Armed with data from these surveys, each member of the legal department can play a role in transforming the department into a known valued partner and chipping away at the perception of the Department of No.
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