The true testament of the success of any service firm is, of course, client satisfaction, so it helps to know what it is that clients want. Since 2015 research company Kantar Sifo has been conducting the Prospera survey in the Baltics, interviewing business executives and company lawyers to measure client satisfaction with law firms. Having carefully listened to and analysed clients’ views over the past six years, we believe that in 2021 the law firms that will be successful will be those that not only have skilled lawyers, but also possess the following three main qualities:

  • offer top-level advisory services combined with high availability and great service level
  • employ the right people for the right jobs and have professional project management skills
  • have high ethical standards combined with strong reputation.

Price is not so decisive

When the client satisfaction survey was brought from the Nordics to the Baltics in 2015, the prevailing comments were: “The Baltic market is different from the Nordics. Here price competition is much more important – for clients the price is the most decisive factor in choosing a legal advisor”. The results now tell a different story. The “competitive fee” criterion came only 11th on clients’ list of criteria in 2020 and, in fact, has never been ranked higher than 10th during the six-year period of research. So even if we disregard the year 2020, viewing it as an exception due to the pandemic and related economic crisis (in crises “a race for quality” is quite common), clients’ expectations of appreciating their lawyers remains the same: offer us top-level advisors and service, handle our projects well and have a strong track record in terms of integrity and ethics. Price comes after all that.

“It often puzzles lawyers in both the Baltics and in Scandinavia that price ends up so low among the criteria that the survey measures. But it really demonstrates that for professional buyers price in itself is not so important – great outcomes are. However, we often point out that this doesn’t mean that clients don’t expect lawyers to have a high level of cost-consciousness. This is quite evident from the client feedback and comments that the survey also collects. As a General Counsel at a large Scandinavian company so eloquently put it during a conversation on the topic a few years ago, “If law firms want a bigger share of my wallet, they best show better care of my wallet”. In a nutshell, I guess you could say that what today’s clients are looking for is a proactive and effective business partner who protects the client’s interests – and wallet”, comments Martin Salomon, Head of Legal Industry Research at Kantar Sifo Prospera.

Graph 1: Clients’ expectations to Baltic law firms 2015-2020. Source: Kantar Sifo Prospera survey

Clients: We need lawyers who have high ethical standards and offer a great service

When we compare clients’ demands in 2015 to their demands in 2020, we see that having a good reputation as well as a high level of integrity and ethical standards have come to the forefront. The ability to handle large projects and being available and service-minded are also growing in importance. Clients appear not to value so much good personal relationship with their lawyers. Also decreasing in importance is the skill of being a good partner to speak to on strategic issues, and the price of the service.

Graph 2: Change in clients’ expectations to Baltic law firms in 2015 vs 2020. Source: Kantar Sifo Prospera survey

Change of mindset

Hearing clients’ views via the Prospera survey has helped Baltic law firms to increase their focus on improving client service. Instead of simply competing to offer lower prices, progressive law firms are investing more of their resources in listening to their clients’ needs.

“Legal skills will remain important as a basis, but clients are increasingly focusing on other qualities – project management skills, understanding of clients’ business, availability and great servicing, as well as a strong reputation and a high level of integrity. Law firms which prioritise client satisfaction should continue to grow their market share this year and going forward”, predicts Laimonas Skibarka, Managing Partner of Sorainen. “I also hope that more law firms will join this survey, which will help to develop the whole Baltic legal market in the right direction,” he adds.

The Prospera survey of Baltic law firms covers 300 Baltic-based organisations that spend at least EUR 15,000 on outside legal help annually (EUR 5,000 in Latvia). About 60% of the respondents are top executives and a third are company lawyers. In 2020, Sorainen participated in the survey for the sixth time. You can see the results of the latest survey here.