If you run a solo or small law firm, one of your primarily differentiating factors is the quality of the client service you provide and your attention to detail. Since most of your clients didn’t go to law school, they may find it difficult to judge how skilled or knowledgeable you are in your specialty practice area or perhaps won’t have the time or attention span to read through your legal articles or briefs to evaluate your experience.
Rather, what your prospects and clients will do is evaluate you based on their perceptions. They can determine from talking to you whether they like you and feel they can trust you. They can judge your interpersonal communications to determine if your working relationship is genuine interest or if they are just another file on your desk. They can determine your level of commitment by how much time you spend with them, whether you thoroughly answer their questions, or if you promptly return their phone calls or emails.
These more “softer” skills become extremely important because clients don’t hire law firms – they hire attorneys they feel they know, like and trust. These little things make your clients feel important and help build strong client relationships that result in repeat business, referrals, and long-term friendships.
Relationships can’t be delegated to your secretary or paralegal. You can’t outsource your interactions with prospects and clients and hope to build a sustainable, profitable law practice for the long term. Rather, your clients need to see and talk with you to value your relationship. The more you understand their problems, challenges and obstacles – and offer timely solutions – the greater they will appreciate your services.
Where do attorneys go wrong? Here are 6 client service mistakes lawyers make.
Mistake #1: Don’t Keep Commitments – When you run your own legal practice, you can feel like you are juggling many balls in the air. Occasionally, you may break a promise, show up late for an appointment, or forget to return an email or phone call promptly. Clients tend to be forgiving, but if the behavior happens repeatedly, they will deem you unreliable and take their business elsewhere.
Mistake #2: Putting Off Marketing and Prospecting – Fielding phone inquiries or responding to requests for information can be time-consuming if you don’t have a system in place. When a prospect asks for information, they expect an instantaneous response: perhaps to download the content from your website, receive an email reply, talk to someone who can answer their question, or receive a packet via FedEx. If you don’t respond in a timely fashion, they will conclude their business isn’t important to you and go elsewhere.
Mistake #3: Unexpected Expenses – While it would be nice if we all had clients who weren’t concerned about our fees and could happy pay our bills on time, the reality is that money is a hot-button issue for most people. If you send a bill that has unexpected fees or exceeds your estimate without first discussing the charges with your client, problems may arise. Instead, discuss your fee structure clearly in advance – and if changes occur, sort them out sooner, rather than later.
Mistake #4: Difficult to Understand Agreements – As a lawyer, you have to balance your desire to cover all bases with your prospect’s desire to clearly understand what you will do for them and what your service agreement covers. Avoid complex agreement letters for simple cases. Better yet, try to say everything you need in a short 1-2 page letter.
Mistake #5: Cover Up Mistakes – Everyone makes mistakes, but if you botch something up, do your best to correct your mistake in your client’s favor. Clients tend to judge you on your ability to solve the matter quickly and efficiently.
Mistake #6: Negativity and Complaining – Present a positive, gracious appearance during client interactions rather than talking about your problems, complaining, or being critical. Yes, it’s easier to find fault or react sarcastically to something, but ongoing negativity leads to a poor reputation. Instead, look for ways to do something nice for people – a thank-you note or a nice gesture can go a long way towards building client loyalty.
By taking the time to nurture your prospect and client interactions, you will develop longer-term relationships that result in more clients, referrals, and more meaningful and satisfying work that changes your clients’ lives for the better.