Do You Know Where Your Best Clients Come From?

Do you know where your best clients are coming from? Do you keep track, or are you just relying on your memory? Do you know how many of your inquiries or initial consultations became paying clients last year? If you’re like many of the solo and small firm lawyers I talk to, your answer to these questions is probably no.

Watch the video, or read below on to find out more.

I was talking to a client last week about his marketing. We were trying to build a profile of his best clients and referral sources. But when I asked him was who his best referral sources were and how are his best clients coming to him, he didn’t know. He had a couple of ideas, but no hard data to check them against.

If you don’t keep track of how clients are coming to you, how do you know what’s working? How do you know whether your marketing and business development resources are being expended the right way? How do you know whether you need to change something in your marketing to attract more clients who are the right fit for your practice or to change your intake and initial consultation process to get more of those potential clients to become actual clients?

The answer is that you probably don’t.

This is some of the most important data you have in your practice, so if you haven’t been keeping track up until now, it’s time to start. It doesn’t have to be complicated – it could be as simple as setting up an Excel spreadsheet.

You’ll want to track:

  • The name of the potential client;
  • The date of each contact with the client;
  • The method of each contact (phone, email, etc.);
  • How the client came to you (be specific – if a client saw a presentation or seminar you gave, which one was it? If they found you on the internet, did they find your website, your blog, or through an attorney directory? Who referred them to you? Did they click through a link from your email newsletter?)
  • If the client comes for an initial consultation, note the date of the consultation.
  • If the potential client becomes a client, keep track of the date that they did so, the fee they’re being charged, and the specific problem they needed you to address.

Review this information regularly to determine which referral sources are most effective and to help you follow up with potential clients. The spreadsheet can help you focus on your best referral sources, improve your referrals from other sources, and keep in touch with potential clients that haven’t yet become paying clients. It can also help you understand your sales cycle better so that you can plan better and improve cash flow.

Learn more about legal marketing:

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.

Hear more about managing your client list by listening to this episode of the Legal Visionaries Podcast where I talk about it with Mary Vandenack.

See more posts and videos about client service:

Are You a Good Multi-tasker?

Actually, there’s no such thing as multi-tasking. Author Dave Crenshaw, in his book, The Myth of Multi-tasking, says that (with very few exceptions) you really can’t perform two separate tasks at the same time. What you are really doing when you think you’re “multi-tasking” is switchtasking – you’re rapidly switching back and forth between two tasks.

The problem is that our brains aren’t really set up for switchtasking. And although you may think that your multi-tasking saves you time, in reality, switchtasking costs you time, money and relationships.

Studies have shown that when you switch from one task to another, it increases the time it takes for you to complete the original task by as much as 25%. When that happens repeatedly, it’s a real hit to your productivity.

And have you ever tried to send an email when talking on the phone to a client? What happens? Either you stop paying attention to the conversation and miss what your client is saying, or you make mistakes in the email. You may need to force the client to repeat themselves, re-send the email, or send a second email to correct the mistakes you made in the first one. Or you find out later that you missed something important that the client said on the call. Either way, you’ve made a poor impression on someone – whether the person on the phone or the recipient of the email. If that happens repeatedly, it could cost you business.

The exception to this switchtasking-multi-tasking rule is that you may be able to perform two activities simultaneously if at least one of those activities doesn’t require much brainpower or concentrated thought. So if you want to fold your laundry while watching television or listen to a podcast while you’re running on the treadmill, be my guest.

But if you want to be more productive – and more effective – in your business day, focus on one task at a time. For some strategies to help you do just that, download my “Stop Switchtasking” PDF guide below.

Negative Online Review? Avoid These 3 Mistakes

What do you do when you get a negative review online?

Discovering that someone has left a bad review of you or your law firm online can be a lawyer’s worst nightmare. But you can make that nightmare even worse by the way you respond. So here are three mistakes lawyers should avoid when responding to negative online review.

Illustration of hand leaving star review on a device
  1. Going negative.

Resist the urge – as tempting as it might be – to respond in kind to a negative review online. All that does is make it look like you’re arguing publicly with your client. Now is not the time for you to tell your side of the story. You may even anger the client further, causing them to leave even more negative reviews.

2. Revealing client confidences in a response to an online review.

It can be tempting if you’re trying to tell your side of the story to reveal things that normally you would never reveal in an attempt to show why you are right and the client is wrong, or to demonstrate that you did everything you possibly could for the client. But don’t make a bad online review worse by turning it into an ethics complaint.

3. Ignoring or failing to acknowledge a negative review.

While it may not be the time to tell your story, you do want to make sure that you are giving some sort of response.

Do:

  • Be brief
  • Acknowledge the concern or complaint of the client
  • Show your concern
  • Encourage the client to contact you offline
  • If you know the identity of the client, indicate in your response that you will contact them offline to resolve the issue.

Don’t respond substantively.

If you’d like more videos on how to respond to online reviews, please subscribe to my YouTube channel or see these videos below:

Think Marketing is Unprofessional?

Do you avoid marketing because you think it’s a little sleazy, or because you don’t want it to seem like you’re begging for business?

If this is how you feel about marketing, you’re not alone. I’ve heard this sentiment about marketing throughout my career, both as a practicing lawyer and as a consultant for lawyers and law firms. But today I’m here to suggest that there is another way to think about marketing that might actually make it something you look forward to doing.

For a long time in the U.S. lawyers didn’t advertise their services at all – it was seen as unseemly. The attitude was that lawyers are professionals and that advertising was beneath them. When some of those restrictions were lifted and lawyers started advertising, some lawyers were appalled at the ads they were seeing and the ways that lawyers were advertising their services with over-the-top ads with screaming or tasteless comments or explosions, etc. Bar associations across the country attempted to create rules that would prevent attorney advertising from demeaning the profession. For many lawyers, that perception of the sleazy lawyer ad has stuck.

Understandably, lawyers who don’t want to be associated with those kinds of advertising methods are skeptical. But here’s the thing – advertising and marketing are two different things. Marketing doesn’t have to be begging for work or looking as if you are not competent because you’re looking for business. And not all advertising has to be over the top.

Let’s get back to basics.

Why did you go to law school or decide to choose the practice area you’re in?

The word HELP with one figure helping another to climb on the P

If you’re like most lawyers I talk to, you wanted to make a difference and to help people. You work hard for your clients and your goal is to get them the very best outcome you can achieve for them. You sincerely believe that you do good work for your clients and that the clients you work with are in a better position after having worked with you than they were before.

And if that’s the case, you’d like to help more people who are just like the clients you have already helped. Your goal in marketing your law practice is not to beg for business or for money, but to identify and attract the clients you can provide the most service to – the clients who already need your help, but who either don’t know who you are or who don’t know how you can help them. You have something those people already need. You’re not trying to convince people who you can’t help or who don’t need your expertise to give you money – you’re simply trying to find those who do.

If you can think about marketing in these terms, and approach your marketing as a way to find people that you can help, you may be less inclined to avoid it.

Do you want help to create a marketing plan with a service mindset? Please contact me!

More videos on legal marketing:

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:

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

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