Delivering first-class customer service – a law firm’s perspective – Interview with QuastelMidgen

First Class

Today’s interview is with Michael Haringman and David Quastel of QuastelMidgen, a law firm in London. Michael is the firm’s senior partner and David is the firm’s managing partner. They join me today to talk about doing things differently in the legal industry, their model of partner led service and what it means to deliver ‘first-class service’.

This interview follows on from my recent interview: Looptail and changing the world through fully engaged employees and customers – Interview with Bruce Poon Tip – and is number eighty eight in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, helping businesses innovate, become more social and deliver better service.

Here are the highlights of my interview with David and Michael:

  • QuastelMidgen came about through a merger, in 2002, of two established and successful London practices; Quastels and Avery Midgen.
  • The merger came about through good fortune more than anything else.
  • Shared values and a strong sense of purpose helped to make the merger between the two firms a lasting success.
  • The firm is now eleven years old and has grown steadily throughout the years from five partners to eleven partners.
  • When they merged they made a conscious effort to ‘buck the trend’ within the legal industry and have gone for a very flat structure and open relationship with their team.
  • Their culture is very much about earning respect through performance and leading by example.
  • This has resulted in healthy growth of the firm and high staff retention, with only four people having left the firm in the last eleven years.
  • Their aim is to create a family atmosphere and to look after people.
  • Three cardinal sins when it comes to client service: One, not phoning a client back; Two, misspelling a client’s name; and Three, not managing a client’s expectations. All of which many other law firms are guilty of.
  • Service has become hugely more important over the last few years as competition has increased and clients look more and more for value for money and service as a differentiator.
  • A mature relationship with your clients demands honesty, openness, directness (but not rudeness) and integrity.
  • However, that needs to be bespoke to each client as each client will have a different personality and character needs.
  • To get that right, you have to really listen to your clients to better understand them.
  • To build that culture and approach you have to recruit the right people and train them too.
  • The whole rationale and differentiator for their firm is that they deliver partner-led service. That means that they don’t compete with the big firms and they don’t compete on price with the commodity firms.
  • Previously, they worked with a PR firm and through the process they helped them understand their values and what they stood for.
  • “We want to provide a first-class service” – encapsulates what they as a firm are all about.
  • Defining that informs everything they do from who they hire, their structure, their culture and the clients they deal with.
  • First-class service is all about having a well bonded team that work together across departments.
  • This is helped by having an incentive structure that is not just about who billed the most but rather they measur overall contribution to the practice and how a team member has done to build the brand of QuastelMidgen.
  • They measure and manage ‘first-class service’ by managing client expectations, being honest with their clients (even if that means turning away work), communicating well, gaining a client’s confidence by taking ownership of their problem, negotiating hard on a client’s behalf and demonstrating a high degree of skill.
  • When it comes to property transactions, they use surveys as a way of measuring customer satisfaction.
  • However, the biggest external validation of what they do is that their business is driven almost wholly by word of mouth recommendation.
  • As many firms have struggled over the last few years, their size, approach and culture has allowed them to remain nimble and to seek out new and lucrative niches, particularly developing an expertise in immigration, Russia and the CIS countries and international property development and investment.
  • This has not been without its hiccups as they have had to learn about the differences that exist between cultures and what they need to do to manage international relationships. But, on the whole, this has proved a great learning opportunity and has only made the firm stronger.
  • They are also picking a large number of quoted and large corporate clients and put that down to their partner-led service model. Their clients want and value ‘one point of contact’.
  • Unfortunately, there is a culture within the legal profession and amongst many law firms to not use your brain. Common sense is not that common and too many firms and professionals are driven and bound by ‘the process’.
  • Service is organic and not mechanistic.
  • A piece of art is not made by painting by numbers.
  • First-class service is driven by having the right mindset supported by having the right culture.
  • Don’t go to the cheapest firm if you want the best service.

 About David (taken from his bio page on the Quastel Midgen website)

David QuastelDavid Quastel is the firm’s managing partner and is a versatile commercial/property lawyer with special expertise in real estate development finance and structuring complex property related joint ventures. Most recently he has started developing a niche practice in energy and infrastructure projects.

David’s forte extends well beyond providing technical legal advice and clients have come to value and rely upon his hands-on strategic advice at the earliest stages of planning and structuring complicated property, corporate and international transactions.

Clients appreciate David’s strategic insights and absolute attention to detail and describe him as “a formidable negotiator” “a unique problem solver”, “a driving force in concluding a deal satisfactorily” and a “wonderful technician”.

About Michael (taken from his bio page on the Quastel Midgen website)

Michael HaringmanMichael Haringman is the firm’s senior partner. Michael advises primarily on commercial matters, commercial property transactions and trusts. His clients include multiple retailers whom he advises on all commercial and strategic legal aspects of their operations, including acquisitions and disposals of both businesses and real property. Michael also advises property investors in relation to their transactions, including acquisitions and disposals, developments, lettings, joint ventures and funding requirements.

Michael advises a number of overseas clients as well as UK based clients.

Michael has developed close and loyal relationships with his clients, who describe him as being “supportive, insightful” and “100% reliable and dependable”. His clients appreciate his analytical and positive approach to all situations and value the “complete piece of mind” upon which they have come to rely.

Michael studied at University College London and qualified at Paisner & Co. Michael is a keen cricket and football fan. He has been a supporter and shareholder of Arsenal Football Club and a member of the MCC for many years.

He is also a lover of classical music, especially opera and is chairman of the John Ogdon Foundation. Find out more at John Ogdon.

You can find out more about the firm at their website, on LinkedIn and do say hello to them on Twitter @quastelmidgen.

Photo Credit: dullhunk via Compfight cc

Comments

  1. Adrian, I am reading Dale Carnegie’s “How to win friends and influence people”.

    One of the many (blindingly obvious but often forgotten) points he makes is call people by their names.

    I like very much the fact that misspelling a customers name is a cardinal sin.

    James

    • adrianswinscoe says:

      James, it’s all simple stuff. Personally, I start to feel as if I have steam coming out of my ears when sometimes people misspell my name as ‘Adrain’. I hope that you can see why…..it’s not just the misspelling, it’s what the word becomes ;)

      Adrian

  2. Adrian,

    Wow. An information-packed interview. I like the idea of the cardinal sins… and I like that they started with identifying their vision and purpose and then, as you say: Defining that informs everything they do from who they hire, their structure, their culture and the clients they deal with.

    Great interview.

    Annette :-)

    • adrianswinscoe says:

      Cheers, Annette. I’m glad that you enjoyed the interview.
      I, too, very much like the idea of ‘cardinal sins’ as it sets the benchmark of what is not acceptable and the firm builds from there. Too often firms talk about what they want to be/do and miss what they don’t want to be/do. The latter, I would suggest, is just as useful, if not more so than the former.

      Adrian

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