5 Ways to Improve Cash Flow

Are you happy with your firm’s cash flow?

Your billing and collections practices can have a major impact on your law firm’s cash flow. Here are five ways to improve them to make cash flow more consistent. (Watch the video, or read more below):

  1. Have Frank Conversations with Clients About Billing – No one likes to talk about money, but it may be the most important part of your initial consultation. Explain your billing and retainer policies, your fees, and how they are calculated. Provide a budget or estimate of total fees. If the client is unable or unwilling to pay, it’s better to find out now than to do the work and not get paid.
  2. Get Paid Up Front – Don’t wait until the work is done to chase clients for money. Paying up front demonstrates the client’s commitment to their case. Use evergreen retainers to replenish funds and refund the client any remaining funds when the matter is complete.
  3. Send Clear, Consistent Bills – I tell my clients, “If you can’t be bothered to send your bill on time, why should the client pay on time?” Communicate at least monthly with the client, even if no work was performed that month or they have paid the entire fee up front so they know the status of their matter and can see what work is being done. Send itemized invoices in language clients can understand – don’t use legal jargon.
  4. Follow Up on Unpaid Bills – If a client gets behind on their payments, address it right away. Set up a collections process that begins with written reminders, and follow up with telephone calls. If you can’t work out a mutually convenient payment plan, and if it’s allowed in your jurisdiction, stop work until the client becomes current.
  5. Conduct a Regular Financial Review – Is there work that hasn’t been billed? Are some matters languishing with no activity? Are your retainer balances sufficient? Look for patterns – are some clients consistently not paying, paying late, or contesting their bills? Make changes in your billing practices or intake procedures as necessary.

If your cash flow isn’t what you want it to be, or you need help with your billing and collections procedures, email me at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com.

Pre-qualify Your Clients to Keep Bad Clients Out of Your Practice

Do you want to keep bad clients out of your law practice?

In this video series on bad clients, we’ve talked about identifying and eliminating bad clients from your practice, but the best way to eliminate bad clients from your practice is not to take them in the first place.

In my last video, I talked about trusting your gut when it warns you that a new client might not be right for your practice. But I know that realistically, sometimes even when your gut tells you not to take a client, you may be tempted to do it anyway. So today I want to talk about a more concrete way to identify bad clients before they come into your practice by creating a prequalifying process for your clients.

First, make a list of the worst clients you’ve encountered in your practice. What made you classify them as problem clients? What do those clients have in common? Were there red flags or warning signs at the initial consultation? Did those clients exhibit specific behaviors that might have tipped you off that they could become a problem later?

Talk to others in your office as well. How did those clients treat your receptionist or other staff in the office? Did your staff take note of something when they interacted with those clients?

Create a list of red flags or bad client warning signs. You might even consider ranking those red flags – perhaps some are worse than others. Maybe if a new client exhibits only one characteristic you’re willing to take them on, but if they exhibit more than one, you won’t. Or perhaps there are some behaviors or characteristics that would make a client an absolute “no” for you.

Developing a list of these characteristics can help you to say no to problem clients before they come into your practice. You might even develop a system to allow those kinds of clients to self-select out of your practice before they even come to the initial consultation by putting obstacles in place designed to keep out those problem clients.

For example, if your problem clients are overly concerned about price, one way to keep them out of your practice is by charging for the initial consultation. Or if your problem clients are unprepared and don’t get you documentation or information you need in a timely manner, you might require your clients to complete an online form or submit documents in advance of the initial consultation. The idea is to develop a system and a process designed specifically to stop bad clients from entering your practice in the first place.

What do you do to keep bad clients out of your practice? Do you have a pre-qualifying process? Let me know in the comments!

See more posts and videos about client service:

How to Fire a Client

Are you ready to fire some clients? 

In a previous video, I challenged you to take a look at your client list and see if it’s time for you to fire some of your worst clients. But how do you do that without creating a bigger problem?

When you have a difficult client and you feel that the relationship is beyond repair, your first course of action may be to change how you work so the client decides to leave on their own. This may include raising your fees or changing how you communicate with the client. Always check your engagement letter and your jurisdiction’s ethics rules, before proceeding.

If the client doesn’t leave on their own, suggest that client might be more comfortable working with another attorney. Lawyers play an advisory role for clients, and that can be a very personal relationship; your nightmare client might be someone else’s dream client.

Look at your contact list to see if you know another lawyer in your area who might be a better fit for that client. Where appropriate, provide the names and addresses of other lawyers the client can contact.

If the client does not take you up on a referral to another lawyer, you may have to fire the client outright. Set up a call or meeting with the client to tell them that you can no longer work for them. Be professional; don’t allow the client to draw you into an argument. This isn’t the time to tell the client why they are wrong and you are right. Instead, show the client why working with you isn’t serving their needs. You want the parting to be as amicable as possible.

If you are representing the client in litigation, you may need the court’s permission to withdraw from the case. You’ll want to do this as soon as possible for the best chance of success; if you are too close to trial, the court may deny your application and refuse to allow you to withdraw.

Always send a disengagement letter to memorialize the end of the client relationship. Send the client or their new attorney the client’s file, and provide them with any upcoming deadlines or other information they need to proceed with the case.

If you want to know how to fill your practice with great clients, get a copy of my ideal client workbook, “Attracting and Keeping the Best Clients” on my products page.

Find more videos about client service:

Keep Bad Clients Out of Your Practice: Trust Your Gut

In my last few posts/videos, I’ve been talking about firing bad clients. But how do you keep those bad clients out of your practice in the first place?

Pay attention to your gut.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been talking to a lawyer who is trying to get out of a bad client situation and when we start talking about that client, they say something like, “I had a feeling from the very first meeting that this client would be a problem,” or, “Now that I think about it, this client was very focused on my fees at the first meeting, and negotiated a lower fee,” or “I had a feeling all along that the client was hiding something from me.”

Often, lawyers take these clients on even though their gut tells them not to because they feel sorry for the client, or they’re worried about where their next client will come from, or because they’ve been referred by someone they know or a good referral source, but they end up regretting it later. Every lawyer I know has at least one of these stories. The problem comes when you keep repeating the same mistakes over and over.

If your gut is telling you that something is not right, pay attention. You don’t need to take on every client that walks into your practice. You can be polite and helpful, refer them to someone else, or just tell them you are not in a position to take on their case. You don’t owe them an explanation.

Don’t second-guess your intuition, even if your concern is money.

The problems caused by bad clients tend to spread throughout your practice – they take your time and energy away from good clients. They use up more than their share of your resources. They often pay a reduced fee, or don’t pay at all. They are the clients who will either be unhappy with everything you do, and leave a bad review, scaring away good potential clients, or – possibly even worse – they will refer people just like them, who want a discount, are needy, etc. – to your practice.

In my next video, we’ll talk about red flags and “bad client warning signs” that you can watch for in your next meeting with a potential client.

If you’d like to learn more about attracting and keeping the best clients in your law practice, download my Ideal Client workbook, or check out the other videos and posts about client service:

Review Your Client List to Improve Your Law Practice

Do you have the wrong clients in your law practice?

Watch the video below to see what you should do if you have the wrong clients in your law practice, and keep reading for more detail.

Do you have the wrong clients in your law practice?

It’s the start of the second quarter of 2021 as I record this video, so it’s a good time to take stock of your practice and your 2021 goals and to see whether you’re making progress and what you can do in this quarter to keep them going or to get back on the right track if you’ve been derailed a bit.

Clients drive your practice. Reviewing your client list is one of the best things you can do to help your practice , but few lawyers I know do a regular review of their client list to evaluate the strength of that client or case.

We’re all familiar with the Pareto Principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule. That rule applies to clients as well – 80% of your effort will be expended on 20% of your clients, and 80% of your revenue will come from 20% of your clients. In other words, more clients isn’t always better. It’s better to have fewer quality, high-value clients or cases, than more lower-value cases or clients.

This quarter, I’m going to challenge you to pull out that client list and rate your clients either A, B, C, or D clients. A clients are your best clients, with your best cases; B clients are good clients with good cases; C clients are just so-so – they may be difficult to work with or have lower-value cases, and D clients are not only difficult to work with, but they have the most difficult or low-value cases in your practice.

Some characteristics you might consider include:

  • How cooperative the client is
  • What the value of the client’s case is
  • How likely it is that you will collect your fee on the case
  • Who referred the client to you – was it a great referral source, or a source that usually refers lower-value clients or matters?

If you’ve already identified some other characteristics of your best clients, you might add those into your calculation, or substitute them out for some of the ones above. For example, if collectability isn’t a problem for you because you collect fees up front, you may want to substitute something else, such as length of time you anticipate the case will last. But keep this as uncomplicated as possible; don’t add too many categories.

As you go through this exercise, think about whether those low-value clients, – especially your D clients – really belong in your practice at all. Are they distracting you from your best clients and sucking up all of your time and energy? Is their case really worth the fee? Are they likely to pay you? If not, it may be time to fire them.

Once you’ve cleaned up your existing client list, don’t stop there. Put some systems into place to periodically re-evaluate your client list to see if anything has changed, and to stop those bad clients from coming into your practice in the first place.

Ready to fire some of those “D” clients but not sure how to go about doing it? Watch for my next video! IF you want to get started getting better clients right away, get a copy of my Ideal Client Workbook on the Products page.

See more posts and videos about client service:

What Makes a Great Testimonial or Recommendation?

In my last couple of videos, I talked about LinkedIn Recommendations and testimonials – why you need them and how to ask for them.

But what makes for a good client recommendation or testimonial? Watch the video below and/or read on to find out!

The purpose of a testimonial is to help overcome client objections and to help your ideal clients to recognize themselves and see that you are a good choice for them.

You’ve probably heard testimonials on television commercials for lawyers that say something like, “I was injured in a truck accident. The insurance company only offered me $7500 to settle my case, but my attorneys got me $1 million.”

That kind of testimonial tells you what the lawyer does – plaintiff’s personal injury, but I don’t think it quite goes far enough, and it’s a little one-dimensional, focusing only on outcome.

But clients care about a lot more than outcome when they are working with an attorney. They care about what it is like to work with you, how easy you made it for them to navigate the process, whether they felt like you really cared about them and their problems, and more.

You may have also seen testimonials on lawyer websites that said something like, “Allison was great to work with on my estate plan. I highly recommend her.”

This tells you what the lawyer does and says something about the client experience, but it still doesn’t go quite far enough.

The best client testimonials tell a story about the experience – and it’s that story that the potential client reading your website will relate to. Even better would be if the testimonial demonstrates a before and after – what objections or concerns did the client have before retaining you? How did you address those concerns or objections? How does the client feel now?

You’ll want to include a number of different testimonials on your website and recommendations on LinkedIn that talk about various aspects of your service or that address the most common objections that clients have when hiring a lawyer in your practice area.

For example, look at the difference between the following two testimonials:

  1. “Mary was wonderful! She was so responsive, and we really felt that she had our best interests at heart.”
  • “Mary was invaluable in helping us through a difficult time. I was a bit skeptical at first that mediation would be able to help us resolve all of our divorce and custody issues, but Mary took the time to listen not just to what we were saying, but to dig deeper to find out what was really important to each of us and to develop a financial and custody plan that would work for our family. Mary walked us through the process and was patient, even when we got emotional during our mediation sessions. She answered our questions, no matter how trivial and found a compromise that is fair to everyone and enabled us to move on with our lives.”

A good recommendation tells a story and gives potential clients a good picture of what it is like to work with you.

As always, don’t forget to check the rules of professional responsibility in your jurisdiction to ensure that a recommendation or testimonial complies with the rules before posting it; if it doesn’t comply, you may need to ask the client for a quick revision.

For more video tips see below:

What Should Your Engagement Agreement Include?

I had an article appear in the October issue of the New York State Bar Journal entitled, “What Should Your Engagement Agreement Include?” Read it here or click on the link below the images to see the full article.

What Should Your Engagement Agreement Include – NYS Bar Journal October 18

Reprinted with permission from: New York State Bar Association Journal, October 2018, Vol. 90, No. 8, published by the New York State Bar Association, One Elk Street, Albany, NY 12207.

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.

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!

 

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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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!