Net Promoter Score: the One Number You Need to Grow Your Law Practice

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How many of your clients would recommend you to their friends and family? Guess what — you’re probably way off. According to LegalZoom CEO John Suh, most law firms have a Net Promoter Score of 4–6%.1 That’s not bad, but it’s not very good, either. But what does it even mean?

Net Promoter Score Basics

Net Promoter Score is a way to measure client loyalty. It was introduced by Fred Reichheld in 2003 in the Harvard Business Review as an improvement on the traditional customer-satisfaction survey. You should definitely read Reichheld’s article, but here are the basics.

To find out your Net Promoter Score, ask your clients the following question:

Net Promoter Score template

Source: SurveyMonkey

Then, tally the results and assign a percentage to the number of Promoters (9–10) and Detractors (0–9). (You can assign a percentage to the number of Passives, too, but they don’t figure into the Net Promoter Score.)

Score Respondents
9–10 Promoters
7–8 Passives
0–6 Detractors

Net Promoter Score attempts to control for people who are satisfied, but not loyal. Maybe they don’t want to bother finding another lawyer, for example. That’s why someone who rates you as high as 8 on a 10-point scale doesn’t even count.

To find your score, send all of your clients the above question. (It’s easiest if you use something like SurveyMonkey so you can just email a link to the survey.) Let’s say you get 20 responses from your clients, and they fall out this way:

Score # of Responses %
10 1 30% Promoters
9 5
8 3 45% Passives
7 6
5 4 25% Detractors
1 1

That looks good, right? 75% of your clients gave you 7 or better! Not so fast. Remember that you don’t count 7s or 8s. We’re not measuring satisfaction;2 we’re measuring how likely your clients are to refer more clients to you. These are your fans, the clients who can drive the growth of your firm.

In order to find your Net Promoter Score, you’ll need to find the percentages of Promoters and Detractors.

Respondents %
Promoters (9–10) 30%
Passives (7–9) 45%
Detractors (0–6) 25%

So 30% minus 25% works out to a Net Promoter Score of 5%, right in the middle of the average range for law firms, according to Suh. Okay, so what does that mean?

Target Net Promoter Score

A positive Net Promoter Score is a good start, but some positive numbers are better than others.

LegalZoom says it will not launch a new product unless it can get its NPS to 50% during beta. The company itself has an average NPS of 65%. And Suh said the lawyers in its legal plan network are averaging 72%. So if you think LegalZoom is eating your lunch, you should probably aim for a NPS of at least 65% in order to get your lunch back.

Don’t want to use LegalZoom as a yardstick? That’s fine, as long as you aren’t competing with LegalZoom for clients. But you should still work to improve your score. Your firm’s growth is tied to it, and your ultimate success is tied to your firm’s growth. (Growth doesn’t necessarily mean hiring people if you want to stay small. It can just mean better-paying clients that you don’t have to work so hard to find.)

Caveats

Some will object that Net Promoter Score doesn’t have much to do with whether or not you are doing a good job for your clients, since clients may well be unhappy with good results. Others will object that some lawyers may be great at making clients happy despite getting objectively poor results.

Both are certainly possible. NPS measures client loyalty, not effective lawyering. It should go without saying, but focusing on NPS alone is a terrible idea. A high score does not substitute for an effective lawyer.

Effective lawyers with poor scores, on the other hand, would do well to improve them. The most common sources of ethics complaints generally have little to do with outcomes and a lot to do with basic client service, after all.3 It stands to reason lawyers with a high Net Promoter Score is less likely to have those problems.

For some lawyers, NPS might not be a good predictor of anything. For example, people with embarrassing legal problems might not want to refer to you anyone because they can’t see themselves ever discussing their legal problem with anyone. They might give you a low score that has nothing to do with their loyalty. That’s not your fault, but it will throw off your results if you handle a lot of embarrassing legal problems.

How to Improve Your Net Promoter Score

Once you know your Net Promoter Score, take a hard look at two things:

  1. If it is negative, how can you improve your basic client service?
  2. If it is positive, how can you make it easier for your clients to work with you?

Step one is simple: meet your clients’ expectations. If your score is negative, you probably aren’t even doing that. Instead, you are actually driving clients away. Any growth you are experiencing must be from new clients, and it probably won’t last. You may even be an ethics violation waiting to happen. Maybe you are slow to return phone calls, your office is unpleasant, or you aren’t good at getting to hearings on time. Fix that stuff (and not just in order to improve your NPS).

Step two is to make it as easy as possible for clients to work with you. It turns out that there is a limit to how much loyalty you can earn by exceeding expectations.

Source: CEB Institute (pdf)

Source: CEB Institute (pdf) via Jack Newton’s keynote at this year’s Clio Cloud Conference

What does work, it turns out, is making the process go more smoothly. Remove as many obstacles to your clients’ convenience as you can (without compromising the quality of your legal service, obviously).

How you do that will depend on your practice area, your ideal client, your budget, and so on. But try to look at the experience of working with you with new eyes — or ask a friend you trust to be blunt to play the role of a new client. Figure out what you can do to reduce the effort and inconvenience required of your clients and make changes accordingly.

You can also attach scores to clients. Go through the list and, for each client who is not a Promoter, consider what you could do to bump them into the top bracket.

After you make changes, give them a chance to take effect, then send out a new round of Net Promoter Score surveys. Rinse and repeat.

The goal, in the end, is to increase the number of Promoters among your clients and decrease the number of Detractors. That’s all there is to Net Promoter Score, really.

Featured image: “ Business people cheering in office on white background ” from Shutterstock.


  1. I don’t have a citation, unfortunately. Suh mentioned this during his Clio Cloud Conference keynote

  2. The survey sort-of measures client satisfaction as a byproduct. Passive respondents (the 7s and 8s) are basically your satisfied clients. 

  3. See this article from the ABA’s Law Practice magazine, for example. 

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