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Surveys Help Make Critical Decisions
by Barbara Lewis MBA and Dan Otto MBA


If you’re confused about a specific direction in which to move, a survey can obtain valuable information and can indicate a viable course of action.  Attorneys use surveys in a variety of ways, such as querying: clients about the level of services provided by the attorneys, executives on the visibility of the law firm, referral sources on qualities that they value when referring business, and employees about the firm’s benefits package. 

Surveys are an excellent public relations tool as well.  Recipients are impressed when they find out that the attorney is interested in their opinions, especially since so few attorneys bother to use surveys.  Surveys also provide a benchmark and, when used on an on-going basis, can indicate the success or failure of a specific program.

 Attorneys, other personnel at the law firm, or third parties can conduct surveys, which can be completed by telephone, mail, in person in a one-on-one situation or in a focus group, or, more recently, on-line.  The survey method depends on the type of information needed.  A telephone interview is good for a small group of interviewees where probing questions are useful.  A written survey is more appropriate for a larger participant pool with close-ended questions.  Face-to-face- interviews are time-consuming and, oftentimes, the incremental value is not worth the cost, unless the topic requires a discussion.  On-line surveys are an easy and cost-effective way to obtain information from participants.  The data can be downloaded into a spreadsheet with graphs generated automatically.

 If you’re considering using a survey, here are some simple guidelines to help you.

1.      Pose the question that you want answered.  For example, you may want to know what additional services you should provide your clients.  The question is, “What other services do our clients need?”

2.      Select the group who can best answer the question or, in this case, the target group to whom you will be marketing the new services.

3.      Develop a short survey of 8 to 15 questions.  Use close-ended questions when surveying a large number of people and open-ended questions when conducting a focus group or telephone interview.

4.      Ask unbiased questions.  

5.      Whenever possible use a Likert scale, such as 1 to 5 from “not helpful” to “very helpful.”

6.      Decide who will execute the survey.  For example, can you conduct the survey with in-house personnel or should you hire an independent third party for confidentiality and candor?

7.      Decide on the survey method. For example, do you want a telephone survey or an on-line survey?

8.      Send correspondence to the selected survey participants informing them that someone will contact them about a survey.

9.      Offer a reward for participation, such as a coupon at the local coffee shop, to increase participation.

10.  Allow two to three weeks for survey completion depending on the type of survey (two weeks if the survey is on-line and three weeks if by mail).

11.  Most results will be generated within the first week with participation dropping off thereafter.  A reminder notice generally spikes response rates.

12.  Analyze the results.  Be wary of small sample sizes, since they may not accurately reflect the true opinion.

13.  Make your decision based on the survey results.

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

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