27 September 1999
Warner Cranston has recently appointed Geoffrey Mead as its head of employment. Anne Mizzi chats to the man who is not daunted by the depleted team he now has to oversee.
Hardly a day goes by without the announcement of yet another company reducing its legal panel. Beauty parades are commonplace and every week the marketing department identifies another client who should be targeted or recommends some activity to which we should entice our clients.
As time passes these activities become even more esoteric - go-cart racing, evening race meetings - what next? Pro-celebrity tobogganing! The more exciting the activity, the greater the risk of your favourite client or a prospective client ending up in hospital at the end of it - we all remember the burned-feet-on-the-hot-coals-initiative recently set up by an insurance company.
One of the favourite ploys of the marketing department is to get the clients to go to events under the guise of educating them. One lectures the clients on the latest developments in the law, the most recent Court of Appeal decisions on damages, or whether a car park is a road. My favourite lecture used to be on solicitors' costs because the attention level was about 200 per cent higher than for any other topic.
I wonder whether there is a law firm out there brave enough to let its clients be wined and dined by the competition without seeking to match and better them? Corporate entertaining has spiralled in expense and breadth of opportunity. But the question is does all this time and money spent actually make any difference? Is it not the reality that if we just got on with the job, delivering a first-class service at a reasonable price, we would still receive the same level of instruction, or perhaps even more?
I recall when the North Sea was going through a major developmental phase of drilling. Companies were exerting huge pressure to keep legal costs down, and the cheapest tender was usually the one accepted. Quality seemed to be second on the agenda, if at all. The result was that gradually the outsourcing managers realised price was only part of the cost equation. The client needs to consider not just the upfront cost but the indirect costs. These include the overall effect of delay and lost opportunity just because the clients have opted to depress the service provider's (as lawyers are now known) costs. Our clients need to appreciate fully the value of quality from their legal service providers.
Of course cost is important but as I listen to the marketing gurus talking about their next scheme to impress a client, I look back at the days when our confirmation that instructions would continue was the client saying well done and truly appreciating the value and quality of the service provided. Perhaps those days are gone forever, but I am quite sure that good old-fashioned quality still has a very important role to play in developing and maintaining our business relationships, perhaps more than some clients realise.
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