Stop thinking like a lawyer and start thinking like a client.
Lawyers think in terms of strategy, arguments and victory. Clients think in terms of synergy, communication and empathy.
Lawyers think about billing time; clients think about building trust. Lawyers think outcomes; clients think input.
If we want happy, satisfied clients who enthusiastically sing our praises to the world, we first have to know what they expect from us. And it might not be what we assume.
My Lawyer Doesn’t Understand Me
Late last year some of the top legal marketers and risk management experts in the country gathered at the University of Missouri School of Law for the symposium “Preparing Lawyers for Real-World Practice.”
One session was titled “What Do Clients Want From Their Lawyers?” The short answer: whatever it is, they’re not getting it.
Seven out of 10 corporate clients are so unsatisfied with their lawyers that they would not recommend the firm to others, according to one study presented at the seminar. More than half of the corporations had replaced or demoted a primary law firm in the past 18 months. And they did it without saying anything directly; they just spent less and less money with the firm, which did not recognize the dip in billings as a red flag until it was too late.
Why were the corporations so disappointed? It wasn’t because their lawyers were doing a bad job, or losing cases, or charging too much in fees.
No, most of the clients went looking for new counsel for one simple reason: poor communication. Often the lawyer failed to return calls or keep the client adequately informed. Or else the lawyer made decisions without getting authorization first.
And sometimes it was simply attorney arrogance that sent the client packing.
Another study from Australia found that the number one cause of legal malpractice claims is not dissatisfaction with outcome, but frayed attorney-client relations. The most frequent problem: failure of the attorney to listen, ask appropriate questions, and explain key aspects of the case.
My Lawyer is Awesome
Following are nine ways to avoid becoming a topic of discussion at the next risk management symposium:
Make an accurate first impression. The emphasis is on “accurate.” Don’t try to woo prospective clients by pretending to be something you’re not or promising things you can’t do.
It’s all about empathy. Bring a stopwatch to the client interview. Try to spend twice as much time listening as talking.
Be responsive. When anxious clients have an urgent problem, they want help now. Not tomorrow, and definitely not whenever you feel like getting around to it.
Teach each other. Take a tour of your client’s manufacturing plant to get a better understanding of what goes on there. Ask to attend a board meeting. Invite the client to attend a CLE class with you. Learn together.
Never ignore your client. Even if you can’t talk now – or have nothing new to report – be sure to respond to all calls. Your assistant can pinch-hit when needed. Clients don’t always need answers, but they do want acknowledgment.
Provide information. Help the client understand what is likely to happen in the case. Offer a projected timeline. Explain your billing method.
Work on relationships, not case files. Why break off client communication just because a matter has ended? Staying in touch shows interest and builds loyalty. If you treat your work as piecemeal or transactional, your client will too.
Keep it steady. Clients don’t like surprises.
Anticipate your client’s needs. Smart lawyers don’t play catch-up. By delivering something even before your client asks for it, you show that you are alert, caring and emotionally intelligent.
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He once represented an angler accused of cheating in a King Mackerel contest by stuffing the fish with ice. Contact email@example.com, phone 919-619-2441.
Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina and is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He runs Your Law Life LLC, which helps lawyers and firms improve their well-being and create saner, more successful law lives. He is available for talks, presentations and confidential consultations.