September 2003  Volume 29, Issue 6
ABA Law Pracice Management Magazine, September 2003 Issue
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RIPit! Use Surveys to Make Decisions
by Barbara Lewis and Dan Otto

Surveys are one of the best ways to find out about the perceptions of your clients, referral sources, employees and others. Too often, lawyers are ready to make decisions without appropriate research. But why, when a simple survey can provide concrete answers, offer a course of action that is well supported and be a benchmark for progress in reaching your goals?

A great method of obtaining answers to questions that you have about your clients, your services or any number of other issues is to survey the people who can best answer your queries. Law firms can use surveys in a variety of ways, such as querying clients about the level of services provided, obtaining feedback from executives on the law firm's visibility, asking referral sources about the qualities they value when referring business and learning how employees feel about the firm's environment and benefits.

Moreover, surveys are excellent public relations tools. Clients and others are impressed when they find out that you are interested in-and, indeed, value--their opinions. Surveys also provide a benchmark for current and future activities and, when used on an ongoing basis, can indicate the success or failure of a specific program.When you need to make a decision and you're not sure what your course of action should be, develop a survey to help you.

  • Pose the Question That You Want Answered. Focus in on the issue that you need to address. For example, you may want to know what additional services you should offer. The question, then, is: What services do our clients need that we do not currently provide to them?

  • Select Your Survey Group. Determine who can best answer the question. If, for example, your question relates to the level of service that your firm provides, select a cross-section of large and small clients, in a broad range of industries, whose matters are handled by various partners in your firm.

  • Develop Your Questionnaire. To increase the odds of people actually completing your survey, keep it short. Prepare six to ten questions, and use a mix of open and close-ended questions.

  • Decide Who Will Execute the Survey. Can you conduct the survey with in-house personnel, or should you hire an outside person? Depending on your resources and the group you are surveying, it may be appropriate to use lawyers or other firm personnel. Third-party interviews usually obtain more candid feedback from clients.

  • Decide on the Survey Method. Do you want a telephone survey or a written survey? A written survey may seem more cost-effective, but a good interviewer can gather more information from phone interviews. As for face-to-face interviews, they are time-consuming, and often the incremental value is not worth the cost.

  • Conduct the Survey. If you are conducting a telephone survey, send a letter to the selected participants informing them that someone will contact them by phone. Conduct the survey within three days of the letter's mailing. If you are conducting a written survey via postal mail, include a stamped self-addressed envelope to increase the likelihood of participation. For written surveys, set the due date 10 to 14 days after the mailing.

  • Analyze the Results and Decide on a Course of Action. For example, one firm that surveyed its employees discovered that they were underwhelmed by its benefits package. The firm set about upgrading the package, and the following year employees ranked the firm high in the benefits arena, which resulted in an increase in morale and retention. In a business climate where good employees can be difficult to attract and retain, knowing what motivates them can be critical. It's just one example of how surveys can help law firms win the game. n

Barbara Lewis and Dan Otto are co-founders of Centurion Consulting Group in Los Angeles, which assists firms in developing and conducting surveys. They can be reached at