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“People are more likely to respond [to a survey] when they are disgruntled”

This statement, from Michael Shermer, Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown (Time Books 2005) at 31, should give those of us who advocate surveys of clients some measure of pause. If systemic factors distort scores downward, general counsel should account for that. Meanwhile, several other distortions bedevil client surveys (See my post of Nov. 21, 2005: “focusing illusion” warps views expressed on surveys; Dec. 22, 2005: expectations of clients rise with better legal performance; Nov. 21, 2005: surveys themselves can raise client expectations; and Aug. 26, 2006: surveys intervene and alter views.).

Some people question whether client satisfaction measures correlate with the behavior of those surveyed (See my post of April 8, 2008: unclear link between satisfaction scores and behavior as well as what creates or tipping points of changed attitudes.). Even so, what clients think must matter to general counsel and surveys are one way to find out (See my post of Feb. 16, 2007: client perceptions might as well be reality for general counsel.).

Most commonly, law departments that do so survey their clients annually, but others do so at longer intervals and a few more frequently (See my post of Nov. 20, 2006: Aviva’s two-year timing; and March 16, 2006: frequent surveys.).

Lawyers usually have a say in whom to invite, but it is better to have a system that surveys all clients by level (See my post of April 15, 2007: Johnson & Johnson lawyers pick; Dec. 3, 2006: selection bias; April 8, 2007: Robert Bosch lawyers pick top 20 clients to get survey; and Jan. 3, 2006: “snowball” survey technique.).

Although some surveys ask about subjective characteristics like ethics and leadership, the more common questions concern timeliness, accessibility, and knowledge of the business (See my post of Feb. 10, 2007: most common attributes asked on surveys; Nov. 21, 2005: unusual questions on who is the client and what services they want; Dec. 9, 2005: operationalize the questions and write them unambiguously; March 31, 2007: ask about risk aversion; May 23, 2008: obliquely assess outside counsel; and Sept. 17, 2005: questions on the value produced by the law department.). Most surveys ask about the law department as a whole, not about individual attorneys (See my post of Nov. 30, 2005: entire department, portions, or individuals.).

Client-satisfaction surveys demand careful logistics (See my post of Nov. 24, 2005: hard-copy or electronic delivery; Aug. 5, 2007: how soon should a new general counsel survey clients; and Jan. 16, 2006: pre-test, match length of question to likely length of answer.).

Analysis of the results of a client satisfaction survey offers choices (See my post of May 31, 2005: adjust scores for frequency of client’s use of department; Oct. 26, 2005: gap analysis; Aug. 28, 2005: index and gap analysis; March 25, 2005: weight responses from clients; May 31, 2005: stratify scores by client rank; Dec. 9, 2005: margin of error; Oct. 30, 2005: recognize that importance relates to performance; and Jan. 30, 2006: “net promoters” analysis.).

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