Last month we talked very briefly about which
clients NOT to choose and how to determine your ideal client. This month
we will talk about client relations - how to treat them well when they
come to you and how to keep them happy.
Clients are what our practices are all about. It is
why we do what we do. For the sake of argument, I am assuming that all
reading this article practice law because they want to help their clients
fight the good fight and get justice. We want to help our clients navigate
the legal system and be treated fairly and make the right decisions.
However we also want our clients to be satisfied so 1) they will pay us
for our services, 2) they will refer us new business. It is possible to
have a client that is satisfied with their service and treatment despite
the actual outcome of their case.
The first thing all firms must do is to define
Quality Client Service. This is how ALL clients are to be treated at all
times. If you have a small firm, you could consider discussing how to
define Quality Client Service with everyone in the office. You could do
this at lunch or before the start of the day.
If you choose not to include everyone in your office
in "defining" Quality Client Service, once you do decide what it
means, it must be written down, distributed and discussed with everyone in
the office. I also recommend that you distribute to family members and
encourage everyone in your office to show it to family members. As solo
and small firm practitioners we pride ourselves on our "personal
service." It is critical that everyone (and I mean everyone) in your
firm buys into your definition of quality client service.
I also suggest that you have a sign or plaque made
and hung in your office to let clients know what level of service they
should expect. You might also want to include a sheet with your definition
with all promotional materials and with new client information.
I am going to list some items to consider for your
definition of Quality Client Service. Many of the items seem simple but I
have been in many offices where these common sense items are not followed
by firms that think they treat their clients well.
Having a high standard for greeting clients when
they call or when they visit
Calling clients by name
Offering clients refreshments if they visit
Keeping reception area tidy
Making certain staff do not talk about office
matters while clients waiting (This is a personal pet peeve of mine. I am
appalled at the way some staff will discuss office or personal matters
while clients are in the waiting areas.)
Make certain clients do not have to wait more than a
few minutes to see you. If something comes up that will cause the client
to wait, either send your secretary to let the client know or even better,
go out to waiting room and tell the client you will be a few minutes late
and that you apologize.
Greet your clients personally.
If this is going to be a long term relationship,
introduce the client to your secretary and others in your office if
When meeting with a client, keep interruptions to an
absolute minimum. If you know that you may need to be interrupted, let the
client know in advance. Unless it is an emergency, do not take other
If your office is not neat, meet with client in the
conference room. If you do meet with the client, have only client's file
on your desk. I recently was in a lawyer's office and on top of my file
was a coversheet from his secretary that listed the name of the client,
the date and time of the meeting, the purpose of the meeting and the
papers that we needed to sign.
Return all phone calls as soon as possible but
certainly within 24 hours. If you have voice mail, use it to leave
detailed messages if you are out of the office. If you have e-mail, use
the Out of Office Assistant to let clients and others know you may be away
from your desk for a period of time. One of the biggest complaints we hear
from the public is that they cannot get a call back from their lawyer. If
you cannot return the call, have your secretary call. If you do not have
any news to report, call anyway, If you have promised something that you
cannot deliver, call, apologize and come to workable solution.
Keep clients informed. Send clients all
correspondence related to their case. If possible, provide the client with
a folder for their papers. You should also include information about how
and when to contact you if there is an emergency. I know of one criminal
law and family law practitioner (what a combination) who lets his clients
know what is meant by an emergency. This helps both the lawyer and the
You should always confirm all major decisions with
the client with a follow-up letter. In addition, if a client refuses to
follow your advice, this should also be documented with a letter to the
client and copy put in the client folder.
When meeting with a client for the first time, there
should be a detailed discussion about fees. You should have you billing
and payment policy available to discuss with the client. If the fee
agreement is not available at the first meeting, then it should be sent to
the client within 24 hours. If it is available at the first meeting,
discuss it with the client and have the client sign it if you are
comfortable that the client understands the agreement. If not tell the
client to take it home, read it and send it back in an envelope that you
provide. If it is signed at the first meeting, have a copy made for the
Once a client has been accepted by the firm, all
clients should have a client file made. It should include a client intake
sheet that obtains necessary information. Different practices will include
different types of information but there are some that should be included
for all clients. That information includes (but is not limited to):
Name, Address, Phone, Fax, Email, Social Security
number, Spouse, children, other relatives if necessary.
In addition, there will be other information that
will be needed for conflict of interest checks. Information will vary
depending upon the matter.
(Note: If a conflict does arise, do you have written
clearance from the client of any conflicts which are discovered?)
.You should send all new clients a welcome letter
that includes statement of confidentiality (for a sample, please go to the
MSBA website at http://www.msba.org/
departments/loma/articles/characteristics/intake.htm) details regarding the scope
of your representation, reminders that no specific outcome was promised,
who to contact in the firm with a problem and statement that you
appreciate their business.
Always keep in mind that it costs seven times more
to get a new client than it does to keep a current client and get
referrals from that client. In addition, unhappy clients are much more
likely to tell others about their dissatisfaction. The goal is to 1)
choose clients wisely, 2) start the new client process smoothly and 3)
continue to keep the client satisfied.