Client or customer? We need a new label, says Mayson

Print This Post

2 December 2014


Stephen Mayson

Mayson: “expanded, more inclusive” notion is needed

Client, consumer or customer – no single label can describe the relationship that now exists between people and their legal services providers, Professor Stephen Mayson has argued – having previously thought that it was a distinction without a difference.

“Increasingly, the totality of relationships that lawyers have with those who buy their services will have simultaneous elements of ‘client’, ‘consumer’ and ‘customer’,” he said.

“It will clearly not be helpful to have such a relationship characterised by just one of those labels with its implicit, but very different, assumptions about the nature and foundations of the relationship.”

Professor Mayson said that he had mulled over the distinction between ‘client’ and ‘consumer’ many times, but having given it sustained thought was “slightly surprised” at his conclusion.

Abandoning his former view that it was “largely a matter of personal preference (or prejudice)”, the professor said he now believes the distinction “really does matter”.

In a paper based on a speech he delivered last month at the University of St Gallen, Switzerland, Professor Mayson suggested that there was a need for an “expanded, more inclusive” notion of the relationship between lawyers and those they represent.

“We can no longer use only one label, with its traditional or current meaning, to describe the relationship. Perhaps we even need a new label to describe the modern, multi-faceted, inclusive relationship?”

He went on: “Clients’ expectations and experiences have changed. The historical lawyer-client relationship has been challenged – and found wanting.

“Labels signify different assumptions, expectations and power in the relationship. Clinging to traditional notions of the ‘lawyer-client’ relationship will not survive the world of the 21st century and its shifts in the balance of power between lawyers and clients.”

Professor Mayson warned that “over-emphasising the position and power of consumerism and transactional customers” would not help either and risked losing the “benefits of ‘responsible lawyering’ with its commitment to higher duties than merely oneself, one’s profession, or even (dare I say it?) to one’s clients”.

He concluded: “I used to think that the label didn’t really matter: whatever was going on was the same, whatever it was called. But I now think that it does matter.

“We need clarity and mutual understanding about the underlying relationship; but we also need to recognise that the modern conception of that relationship now needs to be more extensive, flexible and responsive than it has been so far.”

Tags: , ,



Leave a comment

* Denotes required field

All comments will be moderated before posting. Please see our Terms and Conditions

Legal Futures Blog

The skills shortage in law firms is the biggest threat to handling cybercrime

CLC Roundtable discussion at Malmaison Hotel, Charterhouse Square

The skills shortage in our businesses is the biggest threat to our industry when looking at cybercrime. Cybercriminals are not just after money but are looking for sensitive information too, so the legal services sector is an obvious target. In the last year we have had reports of around £7m of client money being lost to such crime. This is not an IT issue and it should not be left to the IT teams to sort out. It is a high-level responsibility and a board-level issue that must be taken seriously. We suspect that we will look back on 2016 and ask why we didn’t respond quicker.

March 21st, 2017