Client Service Deserves Your Focus

The past several years have rocked the legal industry, Big Law in particular. But even throughout the instability, client service has generally improved. While mergers and bankruptcies created uneasiness on the firm’s side of the equation, clients reaped the benefits as the most innovative firms blazed their trails forward.

We predicted in Law 2023 that tomorrow’s leading law firms would stop taking the client experience for granted. Today, those firms are launching research efforts and challenging themselves to think in new ways to better anticipate their clients’ needs. The firms that best understand the client experience will be able to extend that understanding to entire industries, putting them in position to dominate niche markets.

The nearly 150-year-old firm of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLC has prospered through turbulent times by adapting to trends like this one. Pillsbury chair Jim Rishwain recently sat down with Forbes’ David Parnell and explained how his firm is remaining a client service leader through continuous examination and improvement.

“I believe that over the past years, the definition of client service has changed,” Rishwain said. “Understanding what the definition of client service is in the new economy is critically important. We challenge ourselves about that all the time.”

Pillsbury employs roughly 700 attorneys who work from offices around the world, so presenting clients with a unified front is a difficult feat. One of the most significant steps the firm has taken to achieve that goal is establishing a global center of operations in Nashville. The operations hub is where far-flung attorneys collaborate and work to ensure consistency in all facets of client service.

“We want our clients to experience us as a fully integrated firm,” Rishwain said. “As we grow, we want to be seen as a one-firm entity moving forward with our clients. We do not want to have a situation where our clients see us as a series of factions or isolated offices opened up in the United States and around the world.”

Rishwain calls this a “no-headquarters mentality,” and says the firm is kept on track with the help of dedicated executives whose primary focus is integrating attorneys, practices and offices. In the spirit of Great Law, this client service-driven philosophy has become a critical component of the firm’s culture.

“I’m almost hesitant to say this because I’m sure every firm says it, but our culture is truly one of collaboration,” Rishwain said.

Collaboration is indeed an overused phrase in the mission statements of firms that often don’t follow through, but it’s a maxim lived out every day at Pillsbury. Rishwain sticks to a weekly routine of communication with everyone in the firm via his blog: partners on Mondays, associates and staff on Tuesdays, practice group leaders on Thursdays and the board on Fridays. He travels to a different office each week, hosting Wednesday roundtable lunches and using the face-to-face opportunities to make sure each office has the support it needs to deliver the firm’s signature brand of client service.

How much time does your firm dedicate to improving and differentiating its client experience? If it’s been too long since you’ve given it some thought, don’t put it off; firms are already using the finer points of client service to their advantage, and clients are quickly learning to expect better.