Let's Go To The Oasis
Quality On Trial: Achieving Success At A Law
You’ve seen them on television shows—“L.A. Law,” “The Practice,” “Law and Order,” “Ally McBeal:” hard working attorneys fighting for their client to overcome insurmountable obstacles to balance the scales of justice.
In reality, becoming a superior law
firm takes more than expert legal advice and a
win-at-all-costs attitude—a client requires quality
service when facing a legal battle. Nobody understands
this more than Snell & Wilmer L.L.P., one of the
largest law firms in the Western United States. With over
400 employees and offices in Arizona, California and
Utah, Snell & Wilmer treats client satisfaction as
“In 1993, there were no law firms known to Snell & Wilmer against which to benchmark,” notes Taddie. “There were only two books written on quality in law firms and about a dozen good articles. So, we benchmarked other non-legal organizations and learned as much as we could from our clients.”
“Prior to embarking on its own quality program, the firm carefully monitored the progress and success of several of its clients, including MicroAge, Inc. and Holsum Bakery, during their efforts with the implementation of quality management in their respective business environment,” explains Taddie.
That spring, Snell & Wilmer held a one-day seminar on Total Quality Service (TQS) and the decision was made to begin a small quality pilot program. Two groups within the firm, the Business and Finance group and the Real Estate and Commercial Finance group, were selected to participate in this pilot program. Each group quickly saw positive results within their practice areas after incorporating TQS into their operations.
Getting Down to
“One of the QAC’s first undertakings was to rewrite the firm credo, an expression of the firm’s values that had originally been written in 1960,” explains Taddie. “With involvement of over 150 people throughout Snell & Wilmer’s four offices and input from firm founders Frank Snell and Mark Wilmer, the credo was rewritten and a credo video was produced in May 1994.”
Over the past five years, Snell & Wilmer’s TQS initiative has focused on measuring client feedback, determining critical success factors, improving communication and morale, establishing practice group goals and objectives and ways to more effectively serve their clients. All of these factors—emphasizing accessibility and communication, building relationships, hard work and up-front investment in technology and resources, contribute to Snell & Wilmer’s focus of exceeding customer expectations.
Best Practices in
Another practice that helped boost client satisfaction was as simple as picking up a phone. “Clients feel that attorney accessibility is the most important aspect of their relationship with a law firm,” explains Matt Feeney, a partner at Snell & Wilmer whose practice group started the two-hour return phone call rule.
With the two-hour return call policy, call times are noted on phone message slips, and every lawyer is expected to jot down the time of the return call. And clients certainly appreciate the quick reply. James H. Dormaz, whose employer, MicroAge Inc., has a business relationship with Snell & Wilmer says, “When I call the Snell & Wilmer partner in charge of our account with a question, I get a good, prompt, pithy answer on the phone, not a 10-page memo from an associate that wanders all around the point. It’s nice to get the answer right away, because that’s where my train of thought is at the moment. And, I am not paying them to bring an associate up the learning curve.”
And when clients call, they call with questions. To have superior client service Snell & Wilmer had to develop practices that deliver answers as quickly as clients come up with questions. So the firm went digital with a Resource Bank, a database of legal forms and legal research, one of only a few in the industry. This best practice uses electronic forms and a research bank saving the firm and its clients considerable time and money. Each month updates are issued to let people know what was added to the bank and to remind younger lawyers to go there first when they’re given assignments.
The People Behind the
One program (highlighted by the Best Practices judges) that helped develop great employees was the intern mentoring program. Established for first and second year attorneys, this program works by placing new hires with a partner or senior associate who will mentor and advise.
“They are to meet a minimum of once a month, create and provide training and educational opportunities and impart the firm history, tradition and culture,” explains Taddie. “In addition, they monitor productivity and contribution to firm activities and most importantly, serve as a first-line ‘sounding board’ for any problems or opportunities that may arise.”
Getting New Hires
The firm has an open-door policy that promotes an easy interaction between attorneys and non-attorneys. Additionally, the firm encourages the free exchange of ideas by regular “all-hands” meetings, roundtable discussions, intranet and internet communications, a monthly newsletter and a formal and informal service recognition program.
Attorneys informally solicit feedback
from their clients to gather information and determine
whether they are performing up to the client’s
expectations. The purpose of soliciting this feedback is
to create an environment where the client can comment
constructively on the quality of legal services and
In-House/On-Site client seminars are held several times a year when clients are invited to discuss and address the lawyers and staff on various topics concerning their relationships.
“We are often clients of one another’s business. Candid conversation, formulating strategy on how to maximize the benefit of existing relationships and getting valuable feedback on improving customer service are beneficial for all parties,” explains Taddie. “It is this commitment to service that our clients say set us apart. We continually look for better ways to serve our clients and satisfy our internal employees’ needs,” says Taddie.
“None of the television law shows, or any shows for that matter, have adequately depicted our culture. It is truly unique. The firm’s uniqueness is drawn from its equally strong balanced commitments to superior client service and extensive community involvement. It is an environment of continual learning,” adds Taddie. While many of us realize the trials of implementing quality programs, Snell & Wilmer’s trial created a very favorable verdict for the firm and its clients.