Focus groups give law firm the power to 'see themselves as others see them'

ROBERT Burns wrote: "O' wad some Power the giftie gie us tae see oursels as ithers see us." Firms in the modern world now have that power. Few large business would consider making decisions without bringing in professionals who can judge what the public think. From governments assessing policy to Cadbury launching a new chocolate bar, it's all done with focus groups and market research to test the public's attitude.

Such research is not normally associated with lawyers - but our law firm decided to find out exactly what clients and non-clients thought of us and what people were looking for in a firm of solicitors.

Like many professional firms having to meet the demands of modern business, we at Maxwell MacLaurin solicitors in Glasgow and Edinburgh are continually assessing where we are in the market and updating our business plan to reflect that assessment. At the end of last year, we decided to break new ground and follow the example of politics and big business in seeking the opinions of individuals who were not clients, as well as the opinions of some of our own clients.

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This was to be so much more than just a satisfaction survey, so we employed Scotinform, an Edinburgh-based market research company, to find out how Maxwell MacLaurin is perceived by clients and non-clients alike.

We now have a valuable 14-page document telling us exactly what people think of our firm, all based on direct answers to questions that were given to our clients and non-clients in focus groups held in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

My partners and I are delighted with the report, not only because it includes findings of a very high level of satisfaction with the firm and its people but also because it gives us a very clear indication of what marketing strategy we should undertake in the future. We are now in active discussion with One O'Clock Gun, an Edinburgh-based design company, to implement that strategy.

What the survey has also done is help us to recognise the importance of existing client retention. Sheila Muncie, of Scotinform summed up how some clients feel about Maxwell Maclaurin as follows: "Clients in Glasgow and Edinburgh highlighted the very good personal relationship they have with Maxwell Maclaurin and their property department. They frequently used the work 'caring'.

"In Glasgow, where the company has been established for a long time, loyalty was incredibly high. The clients almost thought of Maxwell Maclaurin as 'part of the family'."

We have a very strong client base and we were aware the majority of our business comes from client referrals. Some of our clients are third or fourth generation and nearly every new client will drop a name of an existing one during their first meeting.

Through One O'Clock Gun, we are now also going to reach out from that strong base to new contacts and clients.

It was just as well Burns himself wasn't in the focus groups, as his views on the legal profession have already been well documented. Mind you, as a client, he would have kept the family law division of Maxwell Maclaurin very busy!

• Peter Duff is the managing partner at Maxwell Maclaurin.