Checklist for a Client-Focused Website

10 Questions to Ensure that Your Website Attracts Clients

  1. Are your clients described on your site?

Can your clients ‘see’ themselves anywhere on your site? Is there sufficient detail so that clients will read it and say, ‘that’s me’? Does your site include testimonials from representative clients, or case studies of typical matters you handle so that clients can see the kinds of people or businesses you represent?

  1. Does your site accurately describe the legal problems/challenges faced by your clients?

More likely than not, your website gives a laundry list of practice areas. But does it talk about the specific problems your clients encounter, or the situation in which they find themselves at the time they’re seeking your advice?

  1. Does your site talk about your clients’ problems in language your clients understand?

Or does your site sound like a bunch of legal gobbledy-gook? Are the terms you use on your website the same terms your clients use to describe their problems or challenges? Use the ‘mother/child test’ – if you read your site to your mother or child, would he/she immediately understand it?

  1. Is your site easy to navigate?

Are navigation buttons clearly labeled? Are they easy to find? Do navigation buttons look like buttons? Is there navigation available at both the top and bottom of your web pages? Is your contact information easy to find?

  1. Is your site easy to read?

Are paragraphs and sentences short? Are key points highlighted or set apart from the rest of the text? Do you use headlines, bold type and spacing to give the eye a rest? Is your site easily skimmable?

  1. Does your site provide valuable information to clients to keep them returning to your site?

Is your site a resource for your clients or merely an online brochure? Do you provide clients with information, resources, case updates, facts, new information that could affect their business, changes in the law that might affect them? The more relevant content that is on your site, the more clients will keep returning. You’ll build credibility, loyalty and provide fodder for search engines.

  1. Does your site establish you as an expert in your field?

Does your site contain case studies or jury verdicts to demonstrate your expertise? Does it contain statistics, testimonials or other evidence of the results of working with you? Are there published articles on topics relevant to your clients’ business, challenges or legal problems? Do you list seminars and speeches you’ve given on your practice areas? If this information is listed on your site, is it easy to find? Is it listed in an organized fashion, by date or by category?

  1. Does your site pass the ‘so what’ test?

Clients read everything with the “what’s in it for me” mindset. To  be really effective and grab clients’ attention, you can’t just describe your office, your practice areas and your attorneys’ qualifications – you’ve got to answer the ‘so what’ – how do those things benefit the client?

Don’t just say it – show it. If your site says that you’re committed to learning the client’s needs and understanding the client’s business, you must demonstrate that on your site. Show that you know what your client’s needs are by telling a story, providing a case study, or talking about your clients’ businesses (in general terms) on your site.

  1. Do you walk clients through your site and tell them what to do?

You wouldn’t let a client wander around on their own in your office looking for an attorney’s office, the restroom, the conference room or the coffee machine, so why let them wander around your website on their own? ‘Signs’ (navigation buttons) alone aren’t enough. Give your client a tour and lead them through your site by providing suggestions about where to go next, or proposing an action step.

A client who gets lost, can’t find what they’re looking for, or doesn’t know what to do next is just as likely to click away from your site as they are to go back to the navigation bar to look for something interesting to read on your site.

  1. Does your site demonstrate the difference between you and your competitors?

Your site should be a reflection of your firm’s personality. It should give prospects an idea what it will be like to work with you and highlight the benefits and advantages your firm provides. Clients are looking for people ‘like’ them, or people they can relate to. If your site is too ‘flat’ and clients can’t get a good feel for the firm from it, they’re likely to move on.

Dealing with Difficult Clients

Difficult conversationsIf you have been in practice for any length of time, sooner or later you’re going to get stuck with a difficult client, or at least a difficult client conversation. Uncomfortable client conversations can arise for multiple reasons. Sometimes those reasons have more to do with the client than with the lawyer, but every attorney-client relationship contains two players, so you need to be aware of the ways in which you might be contributing to the problem and the ways you can contribute to a solution.

Take on the right clients

The best way to deal with truly difficult clients is by not taking them on in the first place. That requires that you be able to identify potentially bad clients early – preferably before a retainer is signed so that you can avoid them entirely. Make a list of bad client warning signs to help you identify potentially difficult clients. (See this blog post for tips on identifying bad clients).

Pre-screen and pre-qualify clients by:

  • Asking the right questions
  • Educating clients about the legal process in general and your services in particular
  • Evaluating whether your firm is the right fit for the potential client.

Pay attention to what your gut is telling you when you first meet with clients – if your gut tells you the client is not right for you, don’t agree to the representation.

If you’ve already hired a client that isn’t the right fit, consider firing them.

Communicate value

To effectively attract and retain good clients, you must communicate the value of the services you offer. Know what is important your potential clients and be able to differentiate yourself and your service from the others in your practice area – not just when you’re trying to attract new clients, but throughout the engagement.

Relate your services to the benefits to the client. Everything you do should be based upon the clients’ perspective – what’s in it for the client? How does each of the activities you undertake advance the client’s goals or contribute to their desired outcome?

Manage clients’ expectations

It is crucial that you discover, and help shape, the client’s expectations at the outset of the engagement, and that you continue to manage them throughout the engagement. In her article, “How to Handle Difficult Clients,” in the July/August issue of Law Practice Magazine, Justice Carole Curtis notes that clients have expectations not just about results, but also about service, time and costs. If the client’s perception of ‘service’ is something more or different than what you provide, the client will always be dissatisfied, regardless of how good your work is. It’s your job to manage expectations in each of these areas.

For more tips on managing clients’ expectations, see my posts Tips for Managing Client Expectations on the Legal Ease Blog or Managing Client’s Expectations on Lawyerist.

Know your boundaries and set limits

Often confrontations arise when the unexpected occurs. You can reduce many common difficult client situations by being prepared and setting boundaries at the outset of the engagement. Clients who can’t abide by your processes or boundaries will often self-identify themselves, offering you the opportunity to explore the situation before a confrontation occurs or the chance to decline the representation. There’s no reason to tolerate an abusive client!

Provide excellent service

Keep the client updated about what’s happening with the case. Don’t make clients ask you for a status; be proactive and provide regular updates, even when nothing is happening.

If you need to make a staffing change on the file, give the client a heads-up; don’t wait until the client receives a bill with a new attorney’s name on it or receives a phone call from a new attorney in your office they don’t know. Always present your best work; even if it’s just a draft, it should be free of spelling and grammatical errors, typos and other problems. Always accompany copies of documents or decisions in the client’s matter with a plain language explanation of what the document is and how it affects the client’s case.

Recognize that the client may not always agree with the course of action you think is best. Explain how the different options might advance the client’s stated goals and give your insight about consequences and potential pitfalls, but remember that ultimately, it’s the client’s job to choose the course of action. Document these conversations or follow up in writing.

Under-promise and over-deliver, keeping the four areas of client expectation listed above in mind.

Bill appropriately

Often, client problems or complaints arise out of disputes about or confusion over fees. Don’t nickel and dime your clients by charging them for items that really constitute part of your overhead and should already be factored in to your fees. Make sure your fees are fair and reasonable. If there is a change in your budget, big expenditures that need to be made, or if unexpected costs arise, advise the client as soon as you become aware of the change; don’t wait until the funds have already been expended or simply add it to your bill without discussing it with the client first.

Obtain client feedback

A client that doesn’t complain isn’t necessarily a happy client. And even happy clients may have additional needs that you could address. Obtain feedback throughout the engagement and upon its conclusion and act on that feedback when you receive it.

Handling Difficult Client Conversations

Even if you have done all of the above, you may still won’t be able to avoid difficult conversations entirely. Even generally good or cooperative clients can become difficult at times, especially when you have to tell them something they don’t want to hear, or when they have a complaint.

Sometimes conflict arises because clients don’t feel understood. Even business clients have an emotional investment in their legal matter, and many legal matters have high stakes, affecting clients’ finances, livelihoods, businesses, or their very lives. If you can guide the conversation in a way that makes clients feel understood, the conversation will run much more smoothly.

When you find yourself in a situation that requires a difficult conversation with clients, keep these tips in mind:

Mirror the client’s concerns. Let the client tell you what the issue is, and then reflect it back to the client. This way, the client knows they’re being heard, and you ensure that you understand their issue.

Focus on the client. The key to resolution is concentrating on the client’s feelings and the client’s desired outcome, rather than focusing on yourself, the work you have already done, or additional work that may be required. For example, if a client asks for something in a rush, respond by first acknowledging the client’s sense of urgency and how it affects their goals – not by telling them how much work you have to do or why what they’re asking is impossible.

Lay the groundwork for bad news – and go slowly. Resist the urge to just ‘get it over with’ by blurting out the bad news all at once. When you know the client isn’t going to be happy about what you have to tell them, start out by acknowledging the client’s desired outcome or goals, introduce what you are going to discuss, or explain that there are a number of different strategies that can be employed to move forward with their matter. Be sure to give the client reasons for those options and for what occurred. After you’ve delivered the bad news, let the client know that you empathize with their position.

Acknowledge the client’s feelings. Acknowledging a client’s feelings by saying something like, “I can tell that you’re upset about this” will begin to defuse the situation. Don’t let yourself get emotional or allow the client to push your buttons and don’t argue with clients about their feelings, whether you believe they are justified or not; you won’t change their mind and you are likely to make the situation worse.

Let clients know that they’re not alone. If this particular problem is a common one, or many clients seem to be frustrated by the same thing (for example the Court’s delay in making a decision, or opposing counsel’s refusal to provide documents), let the client know that not only are their feelings valid, but that they have been expressed by others in the past. If you are similarly frustrated, let the client know; it can be a way of getting you and your client back on the same side.

Work toward a resolution based on where you are now. Once the client is calmer and you’ve acknowledged them, you can begin to gather information that can help you to reach a solution to the underlying problem. Offer the client options for resolution, even if you can’t meet their specific demand.

Focus on the positive. Instead of saying no or telling a client what you can’t do and why, tell them what you can do. Explain the options in terms of the client’s goals (i.e. because I know that you don’t want to drag this litigation out…” or “Since you want to keep costs down…”

Don’t retreat or get defensive – it only escalates the confrontation.

Get help. While these suggestions may seem simple, they’re not always easy to implement. Working with a coach or getting some client service training can help you develop the skills necessary to handle difficult client situations.

Need help identifying bad clients or weeding them out? Want some training on dealing with difficult clients? Contact me for a consultation.

A version of portions of this article originally appeared on JD Supra.  

 

Improve Your Marketing in One Step: Focus on Your Clients

Focus on clientsI recently received a question from a blog subscriber, “If I did one single thing to improve my marketing what would it be?” My answer: focus on the client. Get excruciatingly clear on who your best clients are and why. Create an ideal client profile so that you can easily recognize potential clients who may fit into this category, and so that you can describe your ideal clients succinctly and consistently. This will help you educate your referral sources and help them to spot your ideal clients so that they immediately know who to refer to you.

Too many lawyers make the mistake of trying to target too broad an audience for fear of turning business away. But instead of attracting more clients, a poorly identified ideal client results in a watered down message that loses its impact and fails to elicit a response.

It is only when you have a good picture of who your ideal clients are that you can move forward to determine what is important to them, where to find them, how to attract them, how best to serve them, what processes and procedures need to be in place, which employees will work best with those clients, and more.

Who are your best clients?

Review your past and present client lists. Which clients did you work best with? Which were the most lucrative for the firm? Which were the best sources of additional business or referrals? Which clients were the most difficult? Which ones failed to pay or did not respect your advice? Which ones brought you matters that didn’t fit into your strengths? Make a list of the characteristics of good and bad clients.

The value of a client isn’t measured solely by the size of the case or the size of your fee. Valuable clients can be those who have realistic expectations, respect your advice or want the best service. Perhaps your ideal client is one who works with you on a case – or perhaps it’s just the opposite. Maybe you work best with clients who leave you alone to work your magic. Maybe your best clients are simply those who will be ‘raving fans’ and generate lots of referrals for your practice.

Once you have a preliminary idea of what a ‘high value’ client means to you, they will be easier to spot. This takes some in-depth work, but it is well worth it. When you become skilled at defining and identifying high-value clients, you waste less time and energy on lower value clients that sap your energy or cost you money and time.

Change how you talk about your practice

Listen to how most lawyers talk about their practices (or read their websites, social media posts and other marketing materials): it’s all about the lawyer, rather than being about the client. This is a mistake. Clients don’t care about you – they care about themselves and their problems. Why not change the focus of your marketing to be more in alignment with the clients’ interests?

Your marketing message should create an association for the people you are speaking to – either so that they identify themselves as your ideal clients or so that they immediately think of someone else who needs your services.

Instead of focusing your marketing message on you, focus on who you serve and what they struggle with.

Calling your clients by name

Think of your marketing message as a way of calling the name of your potential clients. Rather than making a general statement (“Hey, you!”), identifying someone by name (“Hey, Bob!”) will get their attention much easier. Bob is tuned into that information because it’s very specific to him. You want your marketing to do the same for your clients. You want them to think you’re talking directly to them – because you are.

In order to call your clients by name, you need to be intimately familiar with who those clients are. The better you know the clients you’re seeking to attract, the better your marketing efforts will be. Creating a client profile is a good way to develop that knowledge.

Keep in mind that whether your practice focuses on individuals or businesses, all of your clients are people. If you have a business to business practice, you’ll want to focus on the decision-makers – the human beings you need to connect with in order to get their work.

When creating your ideal client profile, remember that you may have a different “ideal client” for different for different areas of practice or services you provide. Dig deep. Some areas to explore include the four Ps: Psychographics, Patterns for choosing legal services, client Problems, and your Positioning.

Psychographics

Psychographics are one of the most powerful ways to connect with your clients, and also one of the most frequently overlooked. You may find that your clients are actually very different demographically, but psychographically, they have a very similar profile.

Psychographics, while less tangible, are much more accurate in predicting which people or businesses will relate best to your particular message, method or solution. Psychographics include things like your client’s mission, philosophy or values, their reputation in the industry or community, their management or communication style, integrity or litigation history. For example, do you prefer clients who are more collaborative and settlement-oriented or those who want to fight or pursue litigation regardless of the cost?

Psychographics include any belief or value that your clients strongly identify with – and they don’t necessarily have to relate directly to their business or to their legal matter.

Patterns

An important part of profiling your ideal client is determining how they choose legal services. Knowing that your clients are more likely to make the decision to hire a lawyer at certain times of the year, as the result of specific triggering events, or upon receipt of specific types of information can help you plan your services and your marketing strategy. Learn why your clients hire you, what kinds of service providers they prefer and what similar services they have used, among other issues.

Problems

One of the most effective ways to connect with clients is by identifying what problems they face. Everyone wants their problems to be solved, and if you can identify what the client perceives their problem to be (as opposed to what you think their problem is, or what lawyers generally think the problem is), you’ll get the potential client’s attention quickly – and start gaining their trust. Think about not only the problems themselves, but also about the symptoms of the problems that your clients commonly experience, and how clients typically describe them.

Use the language your clients use when crafting your marketing messages, writing copy for your website, posting on social media, or discussing what you do at a cocktail party. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes. If you can do that, your marketing will automatically stand out from the rest of the lawyers in your area and it will help you build relationships.

What is it that your clients want or need? How do they talk about it? Is there an underlying result your clients wish to achieve, even if they don’t articulate it? What are the underlying emotions your clients typically experience when facing the kinds of legal problems you solve?

Positioning

Once you’ve analyzed the problems, ascertained the values and goals, and determined when and how your ideal clients choose legal services, you need to get your message in front of the right people, whether they are the clients themselves, their trusted advisors, or other referral sources. Your client profile should help you to position yourself in front of the right people if it includes an analysis of the places your ideal clients and referral sources gather.

What do your ideal clients read? What do they watch or listen to? Who influences them? What kinds of advisors do they seek? Which websites do they visit? Do they participate in social media? Where and how? Are they members of specific groups on LinkedIn, for example? Where and how do your ideal clients seek out information? What professional associations do they belong to? What types of events do they attend? What causes do they care about?

If you don’t already know the answers to these questions, ask your best clients, or do some research on your existing clients or on individuals in your target market.

The client profile will help you to focus your marketing efforts, plan effective means of reaching your ideal clients, and develop methods to serve them better. The insight it provides can be invaluable for the future of your practice. But don’t create your ideal client profile and then put it away – it is important to revisit it regularly to keep it up to date.

Why Lawyers Are Bad at Client Service

I received an email from a reader in response to something I’d written about  excellent client service that said, in part,

Customer Service, whether in a diner, the grandest salon purveying the finest food and beverage in this or any land, or in the conference room filled with the greatest collection of legal minds … is a lot MORE than even what Meyer calls Hospitality, and whether one argues that it can be taught, it CAN be felt.

It’s more than just being on the client’s side. It’s empathy, it’s caring, but it’s also genuinely liking people. The best food servers like serving food to people. The best retail clerks like shopping with their customers. The best salespeople like selling. And the best lawyers like lawyering for their clients.  They think it’s important. It’s what they DO. It’s what they’re MEANT to do. They mean it when they do it, and they love all of it. If they thought they could get away with it and not be called weird, they’d hum while they did research. . .they might even sing while they wrote (just to themselves, of course, I’m just sayin’).

You said something interesting in your blog: “They should always be made to feel that everyone in the firm, regardless of position and familiarity with that particular client, is there to serve the client – as indeed they are. For a truly spectacular client experience, everyone within the firm must be willing to ‘go the extra mile’ for a client, and to do the unexpected.”

I’d be a little more strident: It should be clear that the first, and frankly only job is to serve the client. Period. Until you get to that point, you don’t understand client service, and if you never get to that point, you will NEVER understand it. If I were ignored, or made to wait, I’d take my business elsewhere, especially at the rates law firms charge. And when it comes to legal services, I can guarantee you, there IS another law firm down the street. There may only be one Chef Fancy at Le Chateau Extreme, but, until a lawyer proves herself to be indispensable, she’s pretty much fungible in the eyes of most clients (sad, but true). And even if lawyers are not, law firms ARE.

It’s a LOT more than just being “hospitable” even if you take the “Southern hospitality” meaning into account. I would agree that not everyone can do it, and I’ll say what some won’t: If you can’t bring it out in your people, get rid of them, and find people who have it. They’re out there, and clients deserve it. I know I do.

I agree with a lot of what this reader had to say. Here are some of my thoughts about why some of this may be occurring:

The unfortunate state of things is that many, many lawyers think of themselves as technicians – what they feel they’re MEANT to do has more to do with understanding the law or analyzing a problem than with serving a client. Some of that is the result of the way lawyers are trained.

Lawyers are trained to research precedent and analyze issues in the context of previous decisions. Clients are rarely discussed in law school. There is little, if any, discussion about all of the myriad aspects of serving clients that don’t involve analyzing issues or making arguments. It isn’t surprising that the client service aspect of the profession is often overlooked or ignored, or just not valued by the time lawyers begin practicing. 

Lawyers that practice in large firms after law school have little to no client contact for years, and often see only the small issue they’re working on – they’re rarely informed about the ‘big picture’ or the overall strategy involved in the engagement, let alone the client’s business strategy or needs outside of that particular matter. To a large extent, lawyers are trained to be backward looking. New ideas and innovative thinking are often scoffed at or viewed as too risky or too costly to undertake.

Lawyers often see the legal issue, not the person behind it. They don’t always see that ‘liking people’ is an important aspect of their jobs – and historically, it may not have been as important for lawyers, because clients put up with a lot to get the lawyer’s technical expertise and training.

Many lawyers just don’t see how client service (or lack of it) affects their bottom line – either the nature of their practice doesn’t lend itself to repeat clients or they don’t realize that clients aren’t coming back (and aren’t referring others) because they didn’t receive excellent client service. Many clients won’t leave during the course of an engagement because it’s just too expensive to change lawyers in the middle, and there’s an element of the ‘devil you know vs. the devil you don’t know.’ In those cases, the lawyer doesn’t realize she has ‘lost’ a client because the engagement gets completed despite the client’s dissatisfaction.

Some clients that leave because of poor client service may give a different reason for leaving – it may sound like they’re complaining about fees, but their real complaint may be that they didn’t feel they got value for their money because the service wasn’t up to par.

Since there’s often no easy way for a lawyer to know that a former client had another legal matter and didn’t return to the firm, or that a current or former client didn’t recommend the firm to a friend with a legal problem, this is, to some degree, an ‘invisible’ problem. This can be overcome at least in part if lawyers put better client service/client experience initiatives into place, have frequent conversations with clients about their experience with the firm, have more in depth conversations with clients about expectations, learn to listen more carefully to clients, and regularly survey or review these issues with clients at all stages of the engagement.

A lot of lawyers make the mistake of putting themselves, rather than their clients, in the center of the equation, and that attitude trickles down to the staff. In lots of law firms, the thinking is that the staff exists to help the lawyers, not to help the clients. Although of course, the ‘ support staff’ in a law firm is there to make the firm work more effectively and to support the legal work the firm is doing, many lawyers seem to forget that the legal work is being performed for clients. Without clients, there would be no firm.

I did not ever mean to imply that client service was limited to Meyer’s definition of hospitality as set forth in the Inc. magazine piece, and I agree that as competition increases, lawyers will need to be more and more focused on clients. It’s a lesson they’re still learning, and part of what I’m trying to impart to lawyers. Clients DO deserve more. And lawyers that don’t get it are going to eventually learn the hard way.

I’m not trying to make excuses for lawyers, but to those ‘on the outside’ who may not have experienced legal education or the (sometimes unfortunate) realities of legal practice may not realize that all of that education and experience shapes the thoughts, beliefs and actions of lawyers.

The best way to increase the level of client service that is being provided is to continue the discussion, and to make that discussion practical and productive – to show lawyers how client service (or lack of it) affects their practice on a profound level, and what they can do to change that and increase the quality of representation they provide to their clients.

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Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!

 

What To Do With Client Feedback

In a previous article I wrote about the importance of seeking feedback from clients, and the ways in which to go about obtaining it. But don’t forget what may be the most important part of the equation – what to do with the feedback once it is received. Obtaining feedback from clients and never looking at it or taking action on it can be worse than failing to ask for the feedback in the first place.

The response to the feedback you receive doesn’t necessarily have to be a direct response to the client, although in many cases, a direct response is appropriate. A client who takes the time to provide constructive suggestions for improvement of a firm’s performance is going to expect action from the firm – either a change in the way the firm provides its services, or some explanation or further discussion from the firm about how to deal with the client’s matters in the future. But whatever feedback the firm receives should be acted upon in some way. And the feedback should always be shared in some manner with those that worked on that client’s matter, including support staff and associates. Although it may not be appropriate in all cases to share the exact response received, the nature of the response should be communicated if the firm expects to improve on weak performances and to encourage strong performances.

Many lawyers make the mistake of taking action only on negative client feedback, but results of a client survey or study indicating that the firm’s performance is ‘ok,’ may warrant more of a response from the firm, whether internally or directly to the client, than purely negative feedback. It is the merely ‘ok’ response that may signal danger for the firm for the simple reason that those results are easy to overlook. It is the indifferent client that the firm has the best chance of turning into a satisfied and enthusiastic future client if the client’s concerns are acknowledged, particularly if there are areas in which the firm can improve its performance in the future for that client. Although negative responses do warrant attention, there are some clients who just won’t be satisfied, and these may be the clients that the firm does not want to encourage to return. By contrast, the indifferent client can often be won over.

Rather than ignoring the ‘ok’ response, the firm should seek to identify the areas in which the client was less than thrilled with the firm’s performance. Often, the areas of disappointment or indifference relate not to the firm’s technical expertise, but to the level of service provided to the client – the ‘experience’ that client had with the firm. 

If the firm has received the client’s feedback in written format, sometimes a follow up meeting between the client and senior members of the firm can go a long way toward repairing or strengthening the client relationship. Remembering that the law is all about relationships, it is the service, rather than the techinical expertise, that often ‘makes or breaks’ the attorney-client relationship. 

Most client complaints are experience or service-oriented, rather than results or expertise-oriented – the lawyer failed to return telephone calls, the lawyer didn’t listen, the lawyer was condescending to the client, the lawyer failed to keep the client informed of progress on the matter, the lawyer failed to provide the client with a reasonable overview of the matter in terms of time, procedures, and billing expectations, the lawyer failed to live up to promises about deadlines or timeframe, the lawyer failed to alert the client to major changes or complications with the engagement, the staff at the attorneys’ office failed to make the client feel welcome or understood, etc. The good news is that these issues are often easily dealt with, once the firm is aware of them. But failing to follow up with a client that provides an ‘ok’ report robs the firm of the ability to learn of these issues, which many clients will not raise on their own unless and until the problem is beyond the point of repair.

Finally, don’t ignore positive feedback from a client. If you or your firm receives a glowing review from a client, ALWAYS, at the very least, say thank you. You can thank the client in a letter, via email or with a follow up telephone call. Let the client know you appreciate their taking the time to complete your survey and thank them for their positive comments. You may also want to ask the client’s permission to use them as a reference, or to use their comments as a testimonial for your firm. Some clients may be uncomfortable with this idea, so this conversation needs to be extremely respectful of the client’s wishes. (See my earlier post about client testimonials here). However, there are many clients who are more than happy to be a ‘raving fan’ for an attorney that has provided outstanding service. 

 

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Already a subscriber? Want to learn how I can help you? Learn more about the products and services I offer by clicking here.

Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!

 

Tips For Obtaining Client Feedback

Seeking feedback from clients is important. But what is the most effective way to obtain this information? The answer may depend on the kind of practice you have and the nature of the particular client – whether it’s an ongoing relationship or a ‘one time’ client.

So many lawyers boast in their marketing materials, on their websites, in firm brochures, etc., that they provide ‘excellent client service.’ Ultimately, in order to back up those claims, law firms need to connect with their clients in meaningful ways – by staying in touch, by showing interest, by learning about the client’s business, by anticipating clients’ needs, by providing solutions that make sense from the client’s point of view, and by checking back with clients to see whether they feel that we’re doing enough. Sometimes the best way to serve our clients is to admit what we don’t know and set about learning it – whether directly from them, or from other sources.

Client feedback can be sought through completion of client surveys or feedback forms sent to a client upon completion of each matter. The advantage to this type of system is that many clients will be more forthcoming on paper than they would be when speaking directly to a lawyer from the firm, particularly if the lawyer is one with whom the client works on a regular basis. The disadvantages of using forms is that many clients will not bother to complete the forms, particularly where the concluded matter is a ‘one time only’ engagement.

One possible solution to this dilemma is to provide the client with an opportunity to provide feedback to the firm earlier in the process, thus allowing the firm an opportunity to learn whether the client is happy with their experience of the firm and to correct any misunderstandings while the matter is ongoing.

Written feedback forms should not be too long or too cumbersome to complete, lest they discourage the client from responding. A few ‘narrative’ questions may be helpful, however, for written format feedback, ratings-type questions (for example 1-5) may be easier and faster for a client to complete. 

David Maister, in his book Managing the Professional Services Firm, contends that client surveys with 25 or so ratings-type questions are simple for clients to complete and have historically been shown to communicate the firm’s desire to improve while allowing the client to provide both positive and negative feedback. Maister contends that response rates to questionnaires of this kind are high where the client is aware that the questionnaire is coming, and where the questionnaire is returned to the firm, rather than to the specific partner with whom the client deals on a regular basis.

Another way to obtain client feedback is to schedule an interview with the client at the completion of the matter. If possible, this interview should be conducted by a senior lawyer in the firm, although not necessarily the lawyer that regularly handles this client’s matters – once again encouraging candor. 

The following are some general areas to cover when requesting comments from clients on their experience with your firm:

  • The client’s overall experience with the firm
  • Experience with lawyers
  • Experience with non-lawyer staff
  • Responsiveness
  • Communications with the client
  • Technical ability

Some narrative questions can be included as well. Ask what suggestions the client has to make the client’s experience more enjoyable or improve the firm’s service, what would encourage the client to hire your firm in the future (or recommend the firm to a friend or colleague), what areas the client thinks the firm could improve and in what areas the client thinks the firm excels. 

Many clients appreciate the opportunity to praise particular individuals within the firm (including the non-lawyer staff) with whom the client has dealt, particularly on long-term engagements. Some firms may want to include an opportunity for the client to identify the individuals with whom the client interacted by name and to provide specific comments about the service they received from those individuals.

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Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!

 

You Define Your Practice, But Focus Your Marketing on Your Clients

Fellow lawyer Arnie Herz of Legal Sanity believes that one of the reasons for lawyer discontent is the failure to address what “sparks us and supports our curiosity, interests and desires.” I agree wholeheartedly that lawyers, as people, need to get in touch with what inspires them and moves them to action. It’s why I’m a big proponent of lawyers and law firms creating vision and mission statements. 

We all do our best work when we’re inspired – when we’ve tapped into our passions. Overlooking our desires and passions is a huge loss, both for ourselves and for our clients. Arnie’s post laments the view that “there’s little to no self in healthy business relationships; it’s all about the consumers we serve and what we can do to help them thrive.” I do agree with Arnie that, “Business relationships are as much about valuing and evincing our selves as they are about reaching and helping others.” The starting point must be the self. It all begins with what motivates us and gets us excited about working. But in order to be successful as business people, it’s necessary to translate our passion into something that helps others.

Where I disagree with Arnie is his discussion of the elevator pitch. Arnie takes issue with the notion that the elevator pitch needs to be about the client, rather than about you and what you care about. Your business, in order to be enjoyable as well as successful and sustainable, needs to honor the self and be an expression of the self. But your marketing materials – the way you convey your self to others, including your elevator pitch, must be geared toward your clients. 

The ‘self’ – whether that’s the firm or the individual lawyer – determines what kinds of clients to target, the markets within which to compete, the kinds of services to provide, and the manner in which you’re going to provide them. However, once you’ve identified those items, and aligned them with your self and your passion, you’ve got to get the clients in the door. In order to get the clients to walk in the door, the marketing needs to focus first on the client – on their needs and how you can solve their problems. 

Unfortunately, many lawyers forget this when crafting their marketing message – they focus too much on their credentials, their skills, and on the things they deem to be important, rather than focusing on the client’s problems and the client’s needs. To get the clients, you’ve got to get them interested in what you’re offering. You’ve got to get them to see themselves in your message. 

It’s basic human nature that everyone is always interested in themselves and their own welfare first. That means your marketing needs to focus on the client – particularly when you’re networking, introducing yourself, or explaining what it is that you do. The client’s first concern will always be, “what’s in it for me?”

The bottom line: align your practice with your passions, desires, interest and curiosity. But then craft your message in such a way that it addresses the client first.

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Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!

 

Is Your Website Really What Your Clients Are Looking For?

“It’s not what you know, it’s what you do.”
-Sean D’Souza www.psychotactics.com

We all know that our websites are there for our clients, or potential clients. But how many law firm websites talk more about themselves than about their clients? 

Take a look at your website and answer these questions:

  • Is your site about your clients or is it really all about you? 
  • Are you providing your clients and potential clients with information that they want, and that they’re looking for when they search the internet? 
  • Does your website demonstrate your experience and expertise by providing resources and educating clients and potential clients, or only by listing awards and accolades? 
  • Is your website a place clients can return to in order to get reliable, up to the minute information? 
  • Is it a place they want to return to, or is your website purely an on-line brochure and a place clients can go to get your phone number and perhaps directions to your office?

Here’s an interesting tool you might want to try out – to see if your site has too much of the ‘wewe factor’ and isn’t focused enough on your clients – The We We Calculator. Of course, it isn’t perfect – it merely counts what it calls ‘customer-focused words’ and ‘self-focused words’ and then calculates some percentages. And of course, even if your site scores high on customer/client focused words doesn’t mean that the content, read as a whole, focuses on your clients, and vice versa. But it is certainly something to consider.

Your website is about you and your firm, but if you’re expecting it to be an effective marketing tool, it needs to convey what matters to your clients – which of their problems can you solve? How do you solve them differently or better than someone else does? How does your experience affect your ability to represent your clients?

Most lawyers ‘know’ that their marketing and their website needs to convey what the benefits to the client are of working with the firm, but it’s not the knowing, it’s the doing that matters. Does your website give your clients or potential clients what they’re really looking for?

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Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!

 

How Many Clients Should You Have?

A friend recently asked me, “How many cases should I take in a year?” Unfortunately, there’s no magic number to answer that question, perhaps that’s because it isn’t the right question to ask – it’s looking at the problem from the wrong end.

A better way of getting to the information that I think my friend really wants to know is by starting from the outcome that you want to achieve. This will be different for every practice. What matters really isn’t the number of clients, per se, but whether you’re accomplishing what you want and need to with your practice. “Too many” clients may just mean that it’s time to expand your practice and bring on some help, or start taking on higher value, but lower volume work. “Too few” clients may mean that you aren’t charging appropriately for your services or you aren’t effectively marketing yourself.

Instead of looking at the problem from the angle of “how many clients should I take on this year,” which, translated, really means, “how many clients do I need to take to get where I want to be financially and to satisfy my other needs related to the practice, i.e. professional fulfillment, etc.,” try looking at it from the opposite perspective and define what those needs are, and then you can work backwards to determine the best way to get there. 

Looking at your practice from this angle is similar to looking at the vision you have for your practice (you can read more about that here.) Once you have the vision, you can determine the steps you need to take to get there. Once you know what you’re looking for from your practice in the next year, you can determine what kinds of cases you need to take, how many to take, and how much you need to charge to reach your goals.

Some things you might want to consider (and this is by no means an exhaustive list) are:

  • What kind of practice do you have?
  • How many current cases are you handling?
  • How much time, on average, does it take for you to handle each case?
  • Are the kinds of cases you’re handling now the kinds of cases you want to handle, or are you looking for something different?
  • Are your cases ‘high value/low volume’ cases, or ‘high volume/low value’ cases?
  • Can you delegate some of the ‘lower value’ or administrative work you do to another person, whether it’s another lawyer or an assistant?
  • Do you practice in multiple areas of the law, or just one?
  • What are your expenses, including retirement, medical and dental expenses, among others?
  • How do you charge your clients – flat fee, hourly, contingency?
  • What fees do you currently charge?
  • How much do you want or expect to make this year?
  • Do you plan to take some cases on a ‘pro bono’ or ‘low fee’ basis?
  • How many hours of your day can you reasonably expect to bill?
  • What is the going rate for legal services in your practice and geographical area?

The bottom line for me is to figure out what you want your year to look like, and then determine how many, and what kinds of cases you want or need to take.

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Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!

 

Exceeding Clients’ Expectations

By under-promising and over-delivering, law firms can increase their bottom line and improve the reputation of lawyers in general, and that makes exceeding clients’ expectations just good business. 

Of course, there is an opposing viewpoint. Exceeding clients’ expectations is considered by some to be a “stupid strategy.” However, often, those that think exceeding expectations is the wrong path to take often base their opinion on the premise that exceeding clients’ expectations offers more value to a customer than the customer wants, and cuts down on profitability. 

But under-promising and over-delivering doesn’t mean providing additional value to the client in such a way that it hurts the firm’s profits. On the contrary, it creates increased profits by increasing client loyalty. 

Often, exceeding clients’ expectations does not require additional expenditures of money or time, and can be accomplished simply and effectively. Seemingly small changes can make a big impact. Some good examples include communicating with clients on a timely basis, ensuring that each contact the client has with the firm is pleasant and courteous, and making clients feel as if the firm cares about the client and her business.

Some define good client service as determining the client’s wants, and then delivering exactly that and nothing more. In my opinion, this is not only short-sighted, but is a disservice to clients. Clients hire lawyers for their expertise, advice and experience. Sometimes what the client ‘thinks’ they want is, upon further reflection or exploration, not in the client’s best interests. Often, the lawyer is able to suggest different alternatives that would better meet the client’s needs, or more effectively accomplish the client’s goals. 

Creativity and innovation in the approach to a client’s problems may be the best value a firm delivers. A mindset that places a premium on the client’s stated wants and disregards the firm’s ability to assess the situation and suggest alternatives, is a huge loss for clients and de-values the importance of hiring an attorney. It’s this kind of thinking that leads people to the conclusion that legal services are a mere commodity.

In short, exceeding clients’ expectations is an excellent strategy. It is the essence of good service.

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Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!

 

Can Excellent Client Service Be Taught?

A brief article in the July 2006 Inc. magazine caught my eye. The piece was about customer service in restaurants, but the lesson applies to law firms, too. A reader asked whether great customer service can be taught. The answer, by Danny Meyer, CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group, a company which includes the Gramercy Tavern among its holdings, makes a distinction between customer service and hospitality, and claims that the latter cannot be taught.

Meyer says that in the restaurant business, customer service is, “getting the right food to the right person at the right time.” In the legal world, that translates to performing the work competently and on time for the client. In short, it’s what I call technical skill.

Hospitality, on the other hand, is defined by Meyer as, “the degree to which your customers feel that your staff is on their side.” To Meyer, this includes such intangibles as remembering repeat customers, listening, making eye contact, and handling mistakes well.

When I talk about providing excellent client service, I’m talking about what Meyer calls hospitality. That’s the real essence of client experience. It’s what will make the difference between a good law firm and a great law firm. In the legal world, there’s nothing the client wants more than to feel that his lawyer, and indeed the entire firm, is on his side.

The ‘hospitality mentality’ needs to be present throughout your firm in order to provide your clients with a good client experience. Your receptionist should take care to remember long-standing and repeat clients. Professional staff must be mindful of listening to the client’s needs and concerns, rather than merely barging in with the lawyer’s solution to what the lawyer perceives the client’s problem to be. Clients must be treated courteously and professionally at all times. They should always be made to feel that everyone in the firm, regardless of position and familiarity with that particular client, is there to serve the client – as indeed they are. For a truly spectacular client experience, everyone within the firm must be willing to ‘go the extra mile’ for a client, and to do the unexpected.

Sound easy? It may be, but time and time again I’ve observed law firm personnel, whether staff or attorneys, ignore clients sitting in the waiting room, brush off a client’ s call without attempting to help because they aren’t familiar with the client’s problem or because the person whose ‘job’ it is isn’t currently available. Client service is the job of every individual employed by the law firm.

For employees who aren’t providing the proper level of hospitality, Meyer recommends telling the employee precisely where he’s going wrong and giving him a fixed amount of time to make specified improvements. For law firms, that means feedback of a less than traditional nature. And that feedback can’t wait until an annual performance review – your relationships with your clients are too important for that. Feedback needn’t be formal, but it must be provided at all levels on an ongoing basis. This feedback should be made in conjunction with client review sessions or client satisfaction programs.

Hospitality, or an outstanding client experience, is often a product of the firm’s culture and environment as a whole. As Meyer cautions, “hospitality starts with employees treating one another with respect and trust. If that’s missing with your staff, it will be missing with guests.” Wondering whether your clients are being treated the way you want them to be? Look first at how your partners, associates and staff treat one another – if your internal culture, atmosphere and communication are poor, chances are the client experience with your firm may not be as positive as you’d like it to be.

Meyer contends that the key to hospitality is hiring the right people, because hospitality cannot be taught. Although I don’t necessarily agree completely, I do agree that a firm can’t provide its clients with a truly great client experience without the right people. Meyer says he looks for five key traits when interviewing prospective candidates to work in his business: friendliness, curiosity, a good work ethic, empathy and self awareness. What do you think are the key traits a legal employer seeking to increase the quality of client experience with her firm should look for?

This article originally appeared on my blog, and prompted a number of comments. To see the post and the comments, go to: http://legalease.blogs.com/legal_ease_blog/2006/07/can_excellent_c.html

For more about how your firm can incorporate client service into its cultures, see these articles and blog posts: Considering Client Service as Part of Employment Reviews, Exceeding Clients’ Expectations, How Client Dissatisfaction Can Hurt You, Do You Know What Your Clients Really Want? and Rules for Client Service.

If you’d like to read more about client feedback programs, you can check out these articles and blog posts: Do You Know if Your Clients are Satisfied?, Tips For Obtaining Client Feedback, What to do With Client Feedback and More on Client Surveys and Client Satisfaction.

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Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!

 

Do You Know If Your Clients Are Satisfied?

In ongoing surveys of lawyers that I’ve conducted, most agree that client service is an important part of marketing, and yet many don’t have methods in place to measure client satisfaction. Among those that do have such procedures in place, even fewer follow up with clients after each individual engagement to determine their satisfaction. 

Many lawyers tell me they don’t need formal procedures to gauge client satisfaction – they just ‘know’ whether or not their clients are satisfied. But do they really know? Don’t make the mistake of assuming that clients who don’t complain are satisfied clients. Once a client starts making objections, it may be too late to salvage the relationship. Many clients don’t complain until they’re already fed up and ready to walk out the door – or at the very least, not recommend you to others.

Some lawyers are afraid to ask clients for feedback because they fear it will invite clients to think of negative things to say. But the point of seeking information from clients is to find out how to improve your service. Sometimes even ‘over the top’ clients have legitimate complaints or concerns that can be addressed in a more global way. And often even the most unreasonable client complaints have a nugget of truth at heart that is worth exploring.

Another objection I’ve heard to seeking client feedback is that once a lawyer asks a client for their feedback, the expectation is that their complaints or concerns will automatically be addressed or resolved. Many lawyers fear that clients will suggest changes that the lawyer cannot make for ethical, financial or other reasons, and that failing to make those changes paints the lawyer in a worse light than failing to ask for feedback in the first place. In rare cases, that may be true, but turning that objection on its head may lead to a valuable learning experience. 

If the client making the objection is a repeat client, or one from whom you are likely to get business in the future, the issue might be worth exploring in a more in-depth conversation or face to face interview to determine whether there is some middle ground that can be reached. Keeping an open mind during these conversations may lead to solutions the lawyer never considered – solutions that could be beneficial to both sides.

Alternatively, speaking with the client about the issue and addressing their concerns while explaining the reasons why changes can’t be made in the way they anticipate can strengthen your relationship and may provide the client with a better understanding of the way in which you work, while at the same time providing the attorney with valuable insights into the client’s priorities and goals.

Even for ‘one time’ clients, addressing these kinds of concerns can be valuable. Perhaps the issue is one that needs to be explained in more detail at the time you are retained to avoid misunderstandings with future clients. And chances are that taking the time to talk with a client, even one for whom you’ve already concluded your business, will generate goodwill that may lead to referrals in the future.

Seeking out feedback from clients can help you determine what kinds of clients to take on in the future; perhaps hearing the same complaints from the same kinds of clients is a signal that this type of work, or clients that fall into this particular category, are no longer the type of clients with whom you enjoy working, or with whom you can profitably run your practice.

Following up with clients after an engagement is concluded can also lead to valuable positive feedback about individual lawyers in the firm or about specific areas in which the firm excels. Sometimes the firm may not even be aware that they have particular strengths (or may not be aware that clients take note of them). In these cases, client feedback can provide valuable insight into the firm’s competitive advantages that can be used to differentiate the firm from the competition and strengthen its marketing.

Clients that see that their attorneys show a genuine interest in the client’s experience are often that much more willing to help the lawyer by referring the firm to friends and colleagues. And great comments on a client feedback form or in a follow up interview with a client after the successful conclusion of a case can sometimes lead to references or testimonials.

 

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Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!

 

Do You Know What Your Clients Really Want?

Seth Godin claims that consumers say they want everything “perfect, now and cheap,” but what he thinks they really want is “interaction, expectations exceeded and respect.”

Whether we agree with Godin or not, it behooves us to realize that consumers, which includes consumers of legal services, often don’t articulate what it is that they really want. Sometimes they don’t know what they really want – at least initially. It takes a little digging, a little conversation, a little interaction with them to get to the heart of what they really do want. And sometimes it takes a little testing. Clients often act very differently than they think they will or say they will at the outset if some basics are not explored.

I had a very interesting conversation with an attorney last week after one of my presentations. We were discussing how he talks to clients about fees and expectations. Although clients often tell him that they only want him to do work on the file, when he probes a little deeper with them, he often finds that what they really want is for him to use his discretion to determine what would be best for the client, both economically and in handling the file. For example, when he points out to the client that they’ll be paying his fee to appear for non-substantive conferences that require an appearance but have already been adjourned ‘on consent’ of the parties, the client agrees that perhaps he doesn’t want the partner to do everything on the file, and that the partner should use his discretion to determine when to send an associate.

This lawyer is very smart. He’s created a win-win situation. He wins and the client wins. The client is getting great representation in the most economical manner it can be delivered. The attorney is still accountable to the client, but he’s leveraging properly so that he can focus on the tasks that need to be handled by a higher level attorney, while giving his younger associates experience and keeping the client happy. If done properly, not only does it keep the client’s costs down, but ultimately, it maximizes the return for the firm as well. And his conversation with the client enhances the relationship of trust. The client knows that, rather than trying to ‘milk’ the client by getting his partner rate for everything from photocopying to filing papers and doing routine tasks on the file, the attorney is making informed, professional decisions about the appropriate staffing for the project.

It may sound simple, but there are lots of firms out there that wouldn’t challenge the client when the client says they only want the partner handling the file; they’d just charge the client for everything at the partner’s rate, thinking they’re getting a windfall. But ultimately, that doesn’t enhance the relationship with the client if that wasn’t what the client really wanted – regardless of what the client said in the beginning. And it’s poor use of the partner’s time as well.

It’s our responsibility as lawyers to educate clients about what they can and should expect from the process. If your clients are insisting on an immediate, ‘perfect’ result at very little cost, consider exploring whether that’s what they really want, and whether that’s a reasonable expectation. Others may disagree, but I think that it’s the attorney’s responsibility to turn away clients with whom he or she cannot agree on reasonable expectations. Allowing a client to proceed under false expectations spells disaster, usually for both the attorney and the client. 

Taking the time to talk to clients about realistic expectations and interacting with them, addressing their real concerns, digging deeper to determine what result they really want and what you can realistically provide is critical to establishing the trust and confidence that are essential to a good attorney-client connection. This probing and process of education creates value and shows the client that you respect them, your work, and the others that work with you.

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Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!

 

Considering Client Service as Part of Employment Reviews

Dan Hull’s What About Clients blog focuses on increasing the level of service lawyers provide to their clients.  Dan’s firm has a performance evaluation system which has recently been re-vamped to include specific focus on client service. (Their system also includes ‘top down’ evaluations, but also ‘bottom up’ evaluations – something missing from many law firms, but that’s a topic for another article). 

Dan says,

“We talk about real service every single day, almost as if it were a substantive area of law practice. It’s a running conversation. But if are serious about building and keeping a “client service culture” at Hull McGuire, we need to underscore them in every performance review.”

Well said, Dan. As I’ve said in the past, law firms can’t expect their employees – whether attorneys or other staff – to take firm initiatives seriously unless the firm makes a real commitment to those initiatives. That means compensation and advancement need to be based on the values that the firm espouses. Otherwise, they aren’t really values. 

If the firm says it values client service (as every firm must, if it expects to survive), each individual must be evaluated based upon whether they are living up to the firm’s client service standards. When performance evaluations and compensation systems focus on nothing but billable hours, it’s no wonder that associates and staff don’t strive for better client service. Rewarding those who provide excellent client service – in all its forms – is bound to get employees more engaged in delivering that service.

More firms should follow Hull McGuire’s lead and incorporate the firm’s stated values into performance evaluations and compensation systems. 

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Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!

 

Being There for Clients – How Available Are You?

Does providing excellent client service mean you have to be tied to clients 24/7?

Dan Hull, who writes the respected What About Clients blog thinks lawyers should be there for clients — 24/7. I agree with Dan when he says,

In the next decade, and even for high-end clients, more and more “cookie cutter” and fungible services will be outsourced and done by very smart and far more cost-effective workers and professionals in Bangalore, Taipei or Mexico City. Just wait. What’s left over will be specialty items and things clients need professionals and specialists to do at their highest levels of thinking and problem-solving.

This may very well be the ‘wave of the future’ for legal practices. That’s why lawyers need to differentiate themselves from the competition, whether that competition is down the street or across the world. It’s why lawyers have to focus more on what their clients really want, and on finding innovative ways to meet not just the needs and wants that clients openly express, but needs and wants that are below the surface.

Where I disagree with Dan is in the premise that providing your clients with the best service always means being available 24/7. For certain types of law practices, being available for your clients at all hours of the day and night, seven days a week might be necessary – a criminal practice comes to mind. If a client is arrested, they need legal counsel fast. And in that situation, if you’re not available, you might lose that client. And if your practice is international in nature and you’re dealing with clients in different time zones, chances are that you’re going to be available on a different schedule than someone with a purely local practice. 

Attorneys are not royalty, as Dan says. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that today’s marketplace or the marketplace ten years from now requires that attorneys be available to their clients around the clock. I’m sure that many will disagree with me, but being available around the clock may not be the best strategy for you or your clients, even if clients say that’s what they want.

It may seem like a radical point of view, but consider the possibility that being always available can diminish the value of your services. Although clients may say they want the cheapest lawyer, they really want the best representation they can get – they want the best value. Being the most available can undervalue your services in the same way that being the ‘cheapest’ can. As Dan Kennedy suggests in some of his teachings about marketing and running a business, nobody lines up to seek the advice of the old man at the bottom of the mountain. It’s the wise man at the top of the mountain that people line up to see – and that people make sacrifices to see.

I’m not suggesting that attorneys should make themselves unavailable merely for the sake of making themselves unavailable. But remember that your best clients are the ones that seek out your advice and that trust and respect you and your judgment. If you’ve built the right relationships with your clients and if you’ve positioned yourself in a way that takes advantage of your own unique talents and skills and you serve clients in a way that no other lawyer does, existing clients, and even potential clients, won’t be too eager to throw that away to take a chance on someone else merely because they claim to be available 24/7.

I’ve said before that sometimes being too available hurts both the lawyer and the client. Again, a lot depends on your individual practice, your practice area, and the client. But being too available can make the client too dependent on the attorney, and can unnecessarily inflate legal fees. It can be the cause of poor performance, distracting the attorney from the task at hand and from the client who’s looking for assistance. I’ve worked with and have personal relationships with attorneys that are available 24/7. Many times, their clients are unnecessarily demanding because they know the attorney is ‘available’ 24/7. Often, they’ve got high stress and high blood pressure, and they never really re-charge. That isn’t good for them, their families, or their clients. They may be ‘successful’ in that they make a lot of money, but is that the only definition of success?

By contrast, I know attorneys that restrict their availability, albeit for good reason. They explain to clients that when they’re involved in a trial (for example), they don’t take other client calls. The client can call the office and get assistance from someone else. If it’s a real emergency, the lawyer’s office is instructed when and how to contact the attorney, but the client isn’t given direct access. The clients respect this, knowing that when their case is being tried, they’ll get the attorney’s full attention.

All of that being said, depending upon your practice area, it’s a good idea to set up systems to ensure that there is a mechanism in place for clients to get to you if they have a true emergency. Dan says that, “no client worth keeping will abuse the privilege.” This may very well be true, but sometimes it’s tough to discern which clients are worth keeping from the outset. Giving all clients unfettered access to you at all times is, in my humble opinion, a mistake. Instead, if you’ve got a client with whom you’ve established a trusting relationship that goes both ways, feel free to give them access that you deem appropriate, and make sure they understand the uses of that access. 

If you’re working in a firm and can establish a system whereby a client gets immediate help from someone, and that you can be reached if necessary, that makes more sense than providing everyone with your personal contact information. Often, if a client trusts you, they’ll trust your staff and they’ll also trust your discretion about how a particular matter or problem should be handled, and by whom. Much of this is a matter of setting expectations with clients at the outset and establishing a good relationship.

Dan Hull contends that in order to be competitive, we have to ‘be there’ for our clients 24/7. I’m not sure that’s true, and particularly not in all practices. A lot of discussion about availability comes from a scarcity mentality – it’s based on the assumption that there aren’t enough clients to go around and that lawyers are all fighting over the same small pool of clients. But if you’ve positioned yourself in such a way that you’re providing service that others aren’t providing, being always ‘on call’ may not be necessary. 

I also disagree with Dan’s contention that not being available 24/7 is arrogant, spoiled and stupid – in fact, I think it can be good business, and that it can benefit both the lawyer and the client. 

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If you liked these articles, subscribe to my e-newsletter, and you’ll receive new articles in your in-box. The articles in the newsletter are not available to the public – the only way to see those articles is to receive the newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Want to learn how I can help you? Learn more about the products and services I offer by clicking here.

Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!