Law Office Management
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Cost-Effective Marketing Tools: ASK YOUR CLIENTS WHAT THEY THINK

By Patricia Yevics
Director, Law Office Management
Maryland State Bar Association, Inc.

Very often solo and small firm practitioners attend conferences on marketing hoping that someone has invented some type of tool that will help them "market" the way the large firms do so that they can compete more effectively. Well, there is a very effective tool that solo and small firm practitioners can and should use regularly. It is a tool that many larger firms are not using and this alone gives you an advantage.

That tool is a client survey. I know what you're thinking, "That's it. A Survey. Tell me something new, something high tech, something glitzy ." Sorry, but there is no better marketing tool to improve client retention and increase client referrals than a client survey.

Anywhere from 50% to 80% of your new clients will come from referral from current and former clients and most of your work will come from additional matters from existing clients. If this is true then you should be absolutely certain how you are perceived by your current clients. Many national law firm marketing gurus believe, as do I, that it is absolutely critical to determine what your clients think of the service they have received from you. This includes clients for whom you are currently providing service and those whose cases or matters have been closed.

Some insights that can be determined from a client survey are:
  • the level of satisfaction the client has with the work that has been performed
  • the client's perception of you and all of the employees he/she worked with
  • Whether the client would refer you other clients
  • Whether the client would use your services again
  • what suggestions would the client give to improve the level of service
  • what criteria the client used in selecting you
  • their needs for future legal services
  • whether the client is aware of all the types of legal services you provide


  • It shows that you are interested in what your clients think. Too often clients complain that we are not interested in their opinions or that we do not take the time to find out what they think. A survey will show that you are indeed interested in their suggestions for improvement. One of the advantages we give for using solo or small firms is because of more personalized and individual attention. Soliciting clients' opinions proves that you are serious about this.

  • You can determine the level of client satisfaction with the service.

    Most of the matters we handle for clients are fairly routine and we assume that simple because we performed the service that the client was delighted with the service. Often that may be true but unfortunately it is those times when the client was not satisfied that causes a problem later. Most clients who are satisfied with your service will not pass that information on to others while those clients who are dissatisfied will tell as many as ten other people even if they do not tell you.

    Most people do not ask for an evaluation of their performance because they are afraid to hear negative comments. Unfortunately your ignoring the bad news will not keep unhappy clients from telling other people who will then tell other people.

    Consider the story of the disgruntled client who stood on a busy intersection during rush hour traffic with a sign that had his attorney's name and all of the client's complaints about the lawyer. Even if the complaints were not true, the damage had been done.

  • You can uncover client interest in specific kinds of new or additional services.

    Unless you only practice one area of law there may additional services that you clients may need which they may be unaware that you provide. Very often a client will go to another attorney for a different service because they were not aware that their current attorney performed those services. Do not assume that your clients are aware of all the services you provide.

    Even if you only practice one area of law, it is still important to ask clients about additional legal needs. This could give you an opportunity to recommend another practitioner who will return the favor when a client needs the services you provide.

  • Motivating your staff to improve client service.

    It is very important that your staff, no matter how small, have the same commitment to quality service that you do. If this is not true then you have the wrong people on your staff. Since your staff will have as much, if not more, contact with your clients as you do it is important that you share the information, both positive and negative, received from the surveys with them in order to improve the service. The surveys can also tell you whether or not your staff has the same level of commitment to quality service. The surveys will also give you the opportunity to discuss areas for improvement with your staff.


There are many ways to conduct client surveys. The methods can be elaborate or simple. They can be performed by a third party or by your office. For solo and small firm practitioners, it is best to keep it simple. The method selected will be determined on the scope of the information that the practitioner is requesting and the time and resources available.

  1. Written questionnaires The written questionnaire is the easiest, least time consuming and most cost-effective type of survey. Depending on the number of clients or the type of information being solicited, the practitioner may choose to send it only to certain clients about a particular type of matter, or to all clients to assess the overall performance of the firms or just a random sample. The anonymity of the client completing the questionnaire can be optional.

    If the type of matter has a definite conclusion then you should consider doing it at the end of the matter. If you are performing recurring work, they can be sent at any time during the engagement.

  2. Telephone Surveys These are obviously more time consuming and must be handled by some one who has excellent phone skills and understands the importance of getting accurate information. These should only be done for a few clients because of the time involved. Each individual survey should take no longer than fifteen minutes and should be limited in scope.

  3. Personal Interviews This is the most time-consuming method and should be used for only small numbers of clients to obtain in-depth information. The practitioner should conduct the survey at the client's place of business at a convenient time for the client. It is also necessary to make certain that the client understands that he/she will not be billed for the time. Although you may use written and telephone questionnaires to inform the client of all the services provide, the personal interview is to only be used to obtain the client's perceptions and opinions about the firm. The client is to do all of the talking. It is the practitioner's role simply to listen, something that is not always easy to do. Since this is for information gathering only, you should not defend or respond to any comments made by the client.

    Why if there are so many good reasons to conduct client surveys do so few firms, both small and large, use them. Fear and arrogance. We are afraid of hearing criticism and we are arrogant enough to believe that we already know exactly what our clients think or even worse, that we do not care what our clients think.

    If you do choose to solicit you clients' opinions you must take their perceptions very seriously and make every effort to act on any suggestions they may give. Otherwise, it will simply be a waste of valuable time.


Enclosed is a sample which you can use to customize your own survey for your own client base.

The survey can be used for two main purposes. The first will be to determine how well you meet the needs of your clients from the moment your phone is answered until a matter is closed. Your questions can be a specific as "Was the phone answered courteously?" or as general as "Were you satisfied with our services?"

The second purpose will be for you to determine whether or not your clients are aware of all the types of services you provide and whether or not they have additional needs for which you can be of assistance. Very often clients go to an attorney or firm for one particular type of matter and have no idea that the firm can assist them in other areas.

The first step in creating a survey is to decide exactly what information you want from your clients, what type of information you would like to give your clients (list of all your services) and how you plan to use that information. Once these issues are considered you can create a simple but effective client survey.

  1. Is the phone answered courteously?
    Always Often Sometimes Seldom Never

  2. Is the phone answered promptly?
    Always Often Sometimes Seldom Never

  3. Are you greeted courteously when you come to the office?
    Always Often Sometimes Seldom Never

  4. Are you made to wait when you visit the office?
    Always Often Sometimes Seldom Never

  5. Are you made to wait on hold when you call the office?
    Always Often Sometimes Seldom Never

  6. Did you completely understand the fee arrangement at the beginning of the matter/case/engagement?

    Yes No If no, explain

  7. Were you made to feel comfortable to ask questions about your matter/case/engagement?
    Always Often Sometimes Seldom Never

  8. Were your questions answered to your complete satisfaction?
    Always Often Sometimes Seldom Never

  9. Do you feel you were kept sufficiently informed about the progress of your case?
    Yes No If no, explain

  10. Were your phone calls returned promptly?
    Always Often Sometimes Seldom Never

  11. Do you feel that you were charged fairly?

    Yes because
    No because

  12. Were you satisfied with the outcome of your case/matter/engagement?

    Yes, because
    No, because

  13. Would you choose our firm again for other matters?

    No, because

  14. Would you recommend our firm to others for similar or other matters?

    No, because

  15. Please list any suggestions you have to improve our service to our clients.

  16. How could we be better prepared to meet your needs in the future?

  17. For which other solutions to your legal , business or personal problems would you consider using our help? Please check all that apply:

    (List ALL of the services you provide)

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