Client Peer Reviews - Does Your Firm Conduct Them?

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If your firm struggles with Partner reviews and Partner peer reviews, you may want to try the Client Audit method. With this method your firm would invite clients to evaluate the performance of the partners and staff who are responsible for the their work. Although this is no substitute for the traditional partner evaluation, such as internal interviews and examination of each partner's performance, the Client Audit is a useful tool for self-evaluation, which will produce additional information, and understanding that tends to complement the more traditional approach.

A Definition of Partner Peer Review

In order to be useful, the review covers the following guidelines:

  1. a process to obtain significant, candid and informed assessments of the work performed by the partners in the office;
  2. a commitment to analyze such assessments and furnish direct and meaningful feedback to the partners who have been reviewed; and
  3. a recognition of the need to implement any appropriate mechanisms or changes which are determined necessary to cause that partners performance to be maintained or raised to the level of quality and competence which is acceptable to the firm.

The Need for Partner Peer Review

While most firms acknowledge the need or desire for such information, few actually succeed in obtaining it. The difficulty seems to be in identifying an appropriate and non-threatening means of obtaining such candid assessments of partners' performance. A simple method, but one regularly overlooked, is simply to ask the client. Who should be in a better position to gauge the client's level of satisfaction than the client itself?

What is The Client Audit

The Client Audit is simply an exercise in soliciting from clients of the firm a self-evaluation. The firm seeks to learn firsthand how the partners are performing in the client's view -- to receive a report card on the quality of services provided by the firm. This process can be conducted on an annual basis with at least six to ten significant clients of the firm, several large clients in terms of annual billings, several medium-sized clients and several smaller clients. The purpose of the meeting is to interview the client and create an opportunity where the client can comment candidly and critically on the quality and competency of the past services provided by the firm. The format consists of the following areas:

Selecting Clients to Participate

Clients may be selected annually for evaluations. An effort should be made to select clients in a way that over time every partner in the firm will have his or her performance evaluated with respect to at least one firm client.

The Initial Contact

Once selected, the billing manager or partner can contact the client either by phone or a personalized letter. The client should be informed that in order to ensure the firm's performance of high quality services, the firm periodically reviews its professional relationships with each of the firm's major clients. Indicate a desire to interview the client at your own expense, and at a time and place convenient to the client, in order to obtain any information that would assist in better responding to the client's needs and expectations. The client is informed that all appropriate client representatives are invited to attend, and that the firm will be sending two to three members to the meeting. The client should be assured that such an interview is standard procedure, and is told that the review is expected to be beneficial both to the firm and to the client.

The Client Audit Team

At the meeting, the Client Audit Team can consist of either the firm's Managing Partner or another Administrative Partner, together with a neutral partner who has not performed any services for the client, and also the billing manager who is primarily responsible for the client's work. This team conveys to the client that the Audit is a normal administrative procedure within the firm, recognized to be important by the firm. A neutral partner is included as a nonthreatening presence who can objectively record and evaluate any criticisms identified by the client. A member of firm management can be included to underline the importance, which the firm attaches to the Client Audit and this particular client's needs.

Topics You May Wish To Cover

At the meeting certain topics can be covered. Below are just a few examples:

  1. Has the substance of the advice and services rendered by the firm been appropriate for the client's needs?
  2. Has the advice and service been practical and useful?
  3. Has the advice and service been timely? Did the firm honor time commitments?
  4. Did the firm anticipate the needs of the client and exercise leadership when necessary and appropriate?
  5. Did the firm keep the client sufficiently advised throughout the year? Was the appropriate person kept informed? Was the communication between the firm and the client satisfactory?
  6. Did the client have access to appropriate staff and areas of specialty within the firm given the client's needs?
  7. Was the client satisfied with the billing statement? Was the bill adequately explained? Was the bill explained in advance of receipt?
  8. Does the client have any suggestions for improvement in the ability to handle the client's needs?

This outline can be changed and amended to the particular client being audited, and the firm should take into account the past services performed by the firm.

Analysis of Information Received

In order to make this process productive, one of the audit team attending the review should act as a recorder of the information received. Following the meeting, the audit team should evaluate the information received and determine ways in which performance might be improved or changed in the future.

Schedule a Follow-Up Meeting

A follow-up meeting should be scheduled with the client to provide feedback from the review meeting and from the firm's evaluation of the client relationship. Any suggestions uncovered during the meeting should be discussed. Any changes to the existing relationship that are deemed appropriate should be discussed in the follow-up meeting as well.

For more helpful information on coaching, mentoring and peer reviews, visit Peer Resources Web site.

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