Last Wednesday, my wife and I were on day 3 of a 4 day Vermont cheese and maple syrup tour. It was about noon on the hottest day of the year and we were driving down Route 35, about 30 miles from anywhere you’ve ever heard of, when I took a sharp corner and quickly swerved to avoid a piece of debris in middle of the road. It looked like a rope or a piece of rubber, but the thud as I rolled over it made clear that my initial assessment was off. Then the tire pressure light on the dashboard lit up.
I popped the trunk, saw that there was a spare, but no jack or tire iron, then pulled out my phone and realized I had no signal. A flat tire, 3 miles from nowhere, no jack, no tire iron, and no cell signal in the heat of the day on the hottest day of the year. We flagged down a passing car and got a ride into Grafton where we hoped to find a cell signal.
I was grouchy, hot, frustrated, trying to remember if I had ever actually changed a tire and what the steps were, wondering if we were going to make it to the next bed and breakfast, whether we should call ahead, how much it was going to cost me to cancel, wondering how we could keep any cheese we buy from melting, I really wasn’t thinking clearly at that point. I pulled out my phone and started up my Zipcar app.
We live in New York City, and as people with more sense than money, we don’t own a car. Zipcar is a car sharing service that allows us to reserve local cars for use on an hourly or daily basis. Their app allows us to make reservations, and report damage to the car, but the best feature by far is the big orange button in the upper right corner that simply says “Call Zipcar”.
To create an optimal client experience, the primary client relationship needs to be with the service provider, and the service provider in this case is the firm not the attorney. As I said in my previous article linked above, I think we are selling “access to the collective knowledge and expertise of the firm”. Otherwise, there is no benefit for the client in hiring a BigLaw attorney. They are paying a premium for the prestige of the names on the letterhead, but getting the efforts of a solo or, more likely, a couple of young associates in return.
How can we begin to change the client/firm relationship? We’ll all have to work together. First, Attorneys need to stop the merry-go-round of lateral defections in pursuit of a few more points, and to put some of that energy into making their current firm a more effective and pleasant place to work. Secondly, firms need to provide tools and resources to clients that actively build relationships at the firm level and they need to develop a culture within the firm that facilitates sharing of resources and knowledge between attorneys rather than simply sharing infrastructure. Finally, clients need to demand a relationship at the firm level, and then they need to have the courage of their convictions to stick with any firm that gives them that relationship, even if “their attorney” jumps ship.
Debbie was a terrific representative for Zipcar, but I wonder how my experience would have differed had I hired the customer service rep, instead of the car rental service.