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Law Firm Client Expectations Differ from Country to Country?

I recently ran a cultural awareness training programme in Amsterdam for a group of senior associates from a number of different law firms who work in a ‘best friends’ alliance. There were lawyers present from the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic and the aim of the session was to both increase levels of cultural fluency within the delegate base and help foster more effective cross-border collaboration.  One of the key issues I was asked to look at were law firm client expectations and how they differ across jurisdictions.

During the session I broke the group into teams by nationality and asked them to consider the following scenario:

The lawyers were mainly M&A specialists or Real Estate experts who work with medium to large-sized clients so you might expect their responses around client expectations to be pretty similar from country to country. After all, clients all want the same thing, don’t they? Apparently not!

There were, of course, a number of similarities around client expectations amongst the various jurisdictions but there were definitely more differences than similarities.

So, What Were the Similarities in Law Firm Client Expectations?

Keith Warburton

Keith Warburton, Global Business Culture CEO

All the above are pretty standard fare and all law firms would pride themselves on meeting these client expectations. If all good law firms match these client expectations, where are the differentiators? What makes one firm stand out against another?

There can only really be two differentiators – price and the quality of personal interaction or chemistry. No-one wants to compete on price alone so that leaves law firms with an imperative to interact super-effectively on an interpersonal level and to do that you need to understand your client expectations.

Understanding client expectations in your own country is difficult enough but effective interpersonal collaboration in a foreign culture is even more challenging. So, what are client expectations at an interpersonal level in different countries – this is what the senior associates said about their own jurisdictions:

The Netherlands:

Belgium

Germany

Czech Republic

Italy

Luxembourg

So, there are lots of differences by country in terms of how clients need to be treated and any good international lawyer will factor these issues into their interpersonal engagements. As you can imagine, there were lots of questions around these issues and a good deal of surprise expressed at the depth of the differences outlined but the thing that most amazed the lawyers in the room was how different client expectations were between the Netherlands and Belgium. They share a border but contrast so strongly.

This is a very quick sketch of some of the points raised by the lawyers at my cultural awareness training programme but lots of other issues were raised as well. What all of this shows is that when dealing with a client from a different jurisdiction, you really do need to do some homework on the local business culture. If you don’t know how to interact effectively in key initial meetings you could be throwing away your key differentiator.

One lesson to take from this is to never confuse geographic proximity with cultural proximity – they very rarely go hand-in-hand. Law firm clients’ expectations need to be understood if client satisfaction is to be gained.

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