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9 Questions to Ask in Your Litigation Postmortem or Debrief

Ken Lopez
By: Ken Lopez

Litigation Management, Leadership, Marketing, Customer Service

by Ken Lopez
A2L Consulting

After almost all of our medium and large engagements, I do something that is probably the single most important thing I do as CEO: I take A2L's clients to lunch.

It's not the lunch that counts, although it is appreciated. It’s the discussion that matters. I consider this discussion to be a great opportunity for a debrief or postmortem.

Since the trusted-adviser relationship of litigation consultant to litigator is similar to that of litigator to in-house counsel, I think this practice is one most lawyers can use too.

Of course, this approach is not unique to the legal industry. The debrief or postmortem has been used in the movie industry for decades. It’s frequently used in government settings and is often used by the military. As a Green Beret friend of mine says, after a mission it’s important to ask, “What almost got us killed today?”

I have done these debriefings more than 100 times in the past two decades, and I learn something new every single time. It’s a simple exercise but not an easy one. To help make it a bit easier, I always bring another member of my team and we hold ourselves to one critical standard that makes this lunch work well: we never get even a bit defensive. This lack of defensiveness puts our clients at ease.

Here are the questions I usually ask, in this order.

  1. Why I engage in this exercise: This is not a question I ask them. Rather, it is something I tell them, and I think it is essential to set the stage. I do these lunches in order to improve my company’s delivery and service and to ensure that we are giving our clients what they need and that we are adapting to their needs rather than the other way around.
  2. Have you worked with folks like us before?: In many cases, I will be meeting the client for the first time, and I like to understand how familiar with litigation consultants they are. It also helps set a baseline. If you were asking this of your client, you might want to know how other law firms would tackle the client’s problem.
  3. What did we do well?: I find that if we do not discuss the positive first, the negative is too hard to say, or it is too hard to say positive things after diving into the negative.
  4. What can we do better?: They don't usually believe I am serious about this. So I use some of the information they have shared about competitors to ask, “Did we do it better than XYZ?”  “There is always something that can be improved; what is that one thing here?”

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  5. Did we find the right balance of giving advice and taking direction? This is a very sensitive area in our line of work. We have written about it many times (see Working in Parallel vs. Series with Trial Presentation Consultants). However, for a successful engagement, we need to get this right.
  6. If you were in my shoes, what would you do? Most of the time I hear, "just keep doing what you are doing." But sometimes, I get some real nuggets of wisdom from people who want us to be getting better and better for both of our sakes.
  7. What is the best way for us to say in touch? We have a large number of ways that we stay in touch with clients, from our blog to social media. I am always trying to match our ability to stay in touch to the customer's style. Some say "sign me up for the blog," while others say take me to lunch once a year or so, and I am happy to do either.
  8. Net Promoter Score. Like many of my peers, we use some variation of the Net Promoter scoring system to measure how our clients are feeling about us. Specifically, we ask: "How likely is it that you would recommend [your company] to a friend or colleague on a scale of 1-10?"
  9. Anyone you think I should meet? If your clients replies to you with a Net Promoter score of 7-10, you can ask for referrals, otherwise I think you have some work to do.

Wonder if this approach works and is appreciated by clients? I had one of my favorite clients reply to the Net Promoter Score question with a "5" which he then raised to a "7" because in his words, we took the time to have this conversation with him and no one else ever had.


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