Client Responsiveness and Compromised Quality
post # 528 — April 16, 2008 — a Client Relations, General post
A question from Joseph A. Heyison of the Legal Department at Daiwa Securities America Inc.
“David, a thought sparked by April 11’s WSJ front page, describing Moody’s alleged move to client-friendliness and possible debasing of its ratings process.
“This is a repetitive theme in professional services: the most rigorous firm builds its reputation but is considered client-unfriendly. Then a new management enters, vowing to be more responsive to customers, and the partners learn that yes, their incomes rise and they get better client relationships by bending a little. Then a lot. Examples: Arthur Andersen, KPMG (tax shelters), various law firms, lobbyists (Cassidy & Co.), etc.
“Question One: How do we differentiate client responsiveness from compromising the quality of our work, and what other than moral suasion works? (Tyrannical regulators? In theory, an internal incentive process would be best, but I’ve never seen it done workably. Despite your advice, I think that firm culture in most cases is simply too weak to rely on.)
“Question Two: How does this affect the economic “gatekeeper” theory? (Firms maintain standards to establish a brand which effectively vouches for the client and thus have sufficient economic incentives to police fee-earners against dropping standards for short-term gain). Is that realistic in an environment where fee-earners are mobile and short-term oriented? Or is the only way to maintain gatekeeper standards the threat of regulatory and criminal action, or ruinous civil lawsuits?”
What think you all?