Having covered how crucial staff is to the practice of law numerous times several times over the last 10+ years on this blog, a refresher on some issues may be in order.
- Receptionist. I have argued that the receptionist should be the highest paid marketing person, because of his or her being the initial face and voice of the firm often. He or she should be the best you can hire, which is why you need to pay them more;
- Marketing staff. Beyond the official marketing staff, everyone employed by the law firm is marketing the law firm, one way or another – good or bad. How they treat not only clients, but people in general, how they act in public, how they dress, and so forth all project a brand; and
- And everyone else, including accounting, HR, copy room, etc. for the same reasons. (click here for 21 posts on the importance of the receptionist, empowering your staff, their importance in the marketing effort, and other related topics.)
Beyond the obvious, the critical point to remember is that law firms wouldn’t exist without staff. They should be treated with upmost respect. If they are not appreciated, morale is low, turnover is high, and hiring and training new staff is expensive. Just ask your HR department or administrator, if you have any doubts.
When I was in-house marketer, I remember a lateral hire from a prominent New York law firm, who lasted two years. His demise was in no small measure due to the way he treated staff, especially his shared secretary. His inflated ego and distain for the “peons” led to problems in getting things accomplished. His secretary was often “too busy” with her other lawyers to do his work. His work, apparently, became substandard due to missing deadlines. I expect the attitude toward his secretary and others wasn’t the main reason he was let go, but it hurt his cause. Another example involved a paralegal and “missing” pages from documents because of how the copy room staff was treated. Then, there was the legacy partner who couldn’t keep a secretary for more than a month or two. All either quit or obtained a new assignments.
It is shameful how ignorant some “educated” people really are. Such behavior is not unique to lawyers, of course, but that is beyond the scope here.
Jared Correia, assistant director and senior law practice advisor at the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program, had a post on Attorney at Work last week that reminds us how important support staff is to any law practice. Because, as he states, they :
- do the majority of the office’s work;
- are better with technology;
- are better with the business/financial aspects;
- often are more involved with client service; and
- particularly with newer lawyers, often “know more … about substantive law, and probably the practice of it, too.”
Bottom line: not only does staff play a vital role in the day-to-day operations of a law firm, but due to their interaction with clients and what that can mean in retaining and attracting clients, they deserve a great deal more respect than some receive.
Lawyers should do the kind to work they enjoy and for the clients they like. Duh, you may say, thinking that that is a simplistic and obvious statement. Not so fast. That may be the ideal, but not often accomplished. According to David Maister in his famous book True Professionalism (pages 23-24) he found in his surveys of lawyers over the years that a majority either merely tolerated or disliked the work they did and the clients they represented.
There are practical reasons that lawyers shouldn’t take all the work that comes their way. If they concentrate in a niche practice and even more so on specific industry(ies), they will be better service providers. With a better understanding of their clients’ business and industry, they will assuredly be more successful both in their technical abilities and business development skills.
A common complaint I’ve heard in surveying law firm clients over three decades is that lawyers do not understand the client’s business. It is one reason that clients will not use a particular lawyer or firm again. Gerry Riskin in a post on Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices points out:
“Clients are hungry to find lawyers who really understand their businesses, but some firms are reluctant to market their services to specific industries.”
Unfortunately, some law firms don’t market to industry segments because they are afraid they’ll miss out on other work. The solution is to list numerous industry segments in a firm’s areas of practice, and provide links to more information about the firm’s experience in each. So, list dozens of industries where the firm has experience.
In today’s competitive legal market, it is logical for lawyers to focus their practices and not try to be all things to all comers. Marketing to industry segments is one way to do that to benefit both the clients and the firm.
We hear a lot today about how law firms must add more value to their client services in light of the competitive nature of our industry. Value-added services might include recognizing the value of a client’s time in reading emails. It may be a simple thing and on first thought not significant in adding value. I would respectfully disagree.
There is too much crud sent in emails, and everyone, no matter what business they’re in, is overwhelmed with emails daily. Clients are no different, and lawyers can be as guilty as anyone in sending emails that could be more succinct.
Patrick Lamb has a post on his In Search of Perfect Client Service blog that struck me as a simple and effective way to get to the point in an email. His three suggestions should help avoid wasting people’s time in reading them:
- Subject line. It should be short and to the point. State “Jones” or “Jones case” instead of Jones vs. ABC international Manufacturing Corporation. As Lamb states, the client knows their name. It should also include the urgency or time sensitivity or “not urgent”, and finally what action is needed;
- Get to the point in the first sentence. Let the client know what needs to be done and when right up front; for example “Signature required by COB 3/31/2015.” Then you can elaborate as necessary; and
- Explain the attachment. Since most people today look at their emails on their smart phone and attachments are not easily opened, let them know what is in the attachment. They can decide whether they need to open it right now.
So, if you want to impress clients with your efficiency and respect for their valuable time, you might take Lamb’s suggestions to heart. It’s a good way to add value to your services. A simple process, and one that could pay marketing dividends.
A post on Attorney at Work by Wendy Werner suggesting ways to share bad news within the office about a member of the firm or about the firm itself, got me thinking about how important it is to share bad news with a client at the earliest opportunity.
It should be self-evident that clients – just like everyone else – hate surprises. Whether it is a setback in the matter being handled, or a financial/billing issue or something overlooked that the client will not be happy about, suck it up and spill the beans as soon as you can.
There are stories about clients forgiving lawyers for a mistake. Rarely is that the case when the firm failed to disclose the error early on, and the client finds out about it later in the game. No one likes to share bad news (well, actually there are some who do, but that’s another story). But, the problem cannot be hidden under a bushel basket hoping that it’ll go away. It won’t!
Some advice includes:
- Visit the client immediately and tell it straight;
- Advise the client what you plan to do next to correct the problem, or otherwise make up for it; and
- Let client know that you will keep them informed about the issue going forward.
Werner calls our attention to Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, a book that covers Gallop research findings that involved asking “10,000 followers what influential leaders provided in their lives. They identified four basic needs of followers” (read clients). They include trust, compassion, stability and hope.
You or your firm could keep or lose clients for some of the same reasons, especially when failing to inform them about a problem ASAP.
In my 30 years in this business, I have found that lawyers are pretty good at planning marketing activities. With guidance, even in the early days, some were enthusiastic about putting a plan together. Maybe it was the challenge, possibly, as time went on, more attorneys recognize the need for developing business, as they realize the marketplace becoming more competitive.
But over the years, I found that even with a simple, straightforward marketing plan, the biggest problem was the failure to implement the plan. Often the excuses range from not having enough time or being overloaded with legal work, or simply procrastination.
Sally Schmidt offered 9 tips relating to marketing organization and discipline last week on Attorney at Work. In a nutshell her tips include:
- Prepare a list of contacts and prioritize the frequency of contact. Set up Google alerts or case filing notifications to help with reasons for contacting them. (Personally I prefer a quarterly contact list using an Excel spreadsheet containing the names of former clients/potential referral sources, and how and when each will be contacted on a quarterly basis. Comments can be added to the spreadsheet to capture the results of each contact);
- Develop a marketing and business development plan for the year that includes specific, measurable goals and objectives to raise your profile, and persons you will contact, preferably in person, and for what purpose;
- Schedule your business development activity like any appointment using whatever technology tools are at your disposal, which should help you set aside a specific amount of time each week for implementing your plan;
- Break your activities into manageable segments (one time management tool I learned years ago was to limit the segments to 15-20 minutes) which will help keep from being overwhelmed or from procrastinating. The shorter periods will also remove guilt for not working on a file during that period; and
- Don’t overlook the resources available in your firm to help with your marketing and business development efforts.
When I begin a one-on-one coaching assignment with lawyers, I mention that my responsibilities include being their CNO (Chief Nagging Officer) during our calls and by email. Several clients have said they find that of great value in getting them to actually implement the plan. So, start nagging yourself today!
There’s a lot of talk these days about lawyers adding more value to their client representation. Particularly because of competition, client demands, and the state of the legal industry, adding value REALLY is important. Just providing a legal product is not enough. But it begs the question what adding value really means.
Jim Calloway, director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program, had a good idea last week which helps in getting to an answer. He said “…the question is whether there is something extra you can provide the client that is related to the legal services and is useful to the client.” It can be done in many ways. One opportunity he mentions at the conclusion of his post states “… if you can surprise the client at the end of the representation with something useful that they didn’t expect, you increase the chances that they will use your firm again, refer others to you and pay their final bill.”
A couple of years ago I wrote a post that included 5 suggestions by John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing for creating more value that are worth repeating:
- Measure. Determine what value you are providing clients already (yeah, the client can help here of course, but that means talking to them about that). You might find that either clients aren’t getting enough value, or that you are not charging enough;
- Lead. Be upfront and offer ways to help clients more effectively with their business or personal issues. Writing articles, making presentations, blogging, creating groups on social media sites are ways to show that leadership capability;
- Teach. The best kind of selling his education-based. Demonstrate how clients can do things well or avoid problem situations via CLE seminars or otherwise;
- Inspire. Here Jantsch is talking about how a great design (in marketing materials, websites, even invoices) can create value. One might think that this suggestion is a bit fuzzy, and I would not disagree. However, design could be a promise of value and that is where something; and
- Listen. Clearly listening to clients adds value. That may seem pretty obvious, but “we rarely do it.” Yet, if you focus, avoid distractions (like your iPhone or blackberry), look them in the eye and really listen, you will add tremendous value.
Then there is the “51 Practical Ways for Law Firms to Add Value,” developed by the Law Firm Value Committee of the Association of Corporate Counsel.
So, if you are trying to come up with ways to add value to your legal services, there should be plenty to consider for implementation by you and your law firm.
Last week I wrote about the fictitious client letter sent to the recently retained outside law firm, wherein the general counsel sets forth his expectations. As noted in that post, the “letter” was brought to us by Bob Denney in one of his Legal Communiqués. ’s Legal Communique, wherein the law firm is admonished/warned about not meeting the client’s service expectations.
This week I will look at the general counsel’s fee and billing expectations, which include:
- stick to the agreed-upon budget;
- Ensure that the bills are “accurate, free of errors and inconsistencies and adhere to the agreed-upon formats and protocols”;
- invoice regularly (thereby helping the client with its cash flow);
- (If applicable) since our policy is to minimize hourly fees in favor of fixed fee or incentive fees, if you misjudge the time spent on our matter, that is your problem since we do not “pay for inefficiency by outside counsel”;
- Besides these basic requirements/expectations, we expect your firm to build on our relationship by “delivering enhanced service.” Ways to do that include utilizing current technology, maintaining knowledge management systems (and presumably, if the letter were sent today, it would include legal project management), and keeping us up-to-date with law alerts, newsletters, CLE seminars, etc.; and
- Periodically seek client feedback meetings regarding both the quality of the work product and the service provided.
Finally, our company has not retained your law firm simply because of its expertise. There are other firms and lawyers equally qualified to handle our legal needs. Your firm was retained because we believe that you will serve us well and meet and “perhaps you will even exceed our expectations.”
As noted previously this client letter was fictitious, but make no mistake, clients expect to be treated as outlined here, even if they do not expressly commit it to a letter. Without a doubt both Denney and I agree on that.
Ran across a fictitious letter written by a fictitious general counsel to a fictitious law firm he just retained. The letter sets forth his expectations for the new firm; and was crafted by Bob Denney of Robert Denney Associates as one of his famous Legal Communiqués. Although it is nearly a year old, it is so right on in terms of what law firms must be tuned into for servicing clients I wanted, in the interests of brevity, to cover it in two posts.
The letter starts off by setting forth what this in-house attorney expects from the firm:
- He doesn’t want the responsible attorney to be a “Lone Ranger”, but expects to be served by a competent team at the level and experience needed; and the attorney needs to ensure that he is providing “quality control” and has a qualified partner to be his backup when he is not available;
- He wants the advice to be objective, and aimed at solving problems not creating additional ones, while anticipating and preparing to overcome any future problems;
- He doesn’t want to be kept in the dark (like a bat or mushroom), and consulted on matters of strategy, timing and expense. Oh yeah, and NO surprises;
- He expects everyone on the team to be responsive, courteous and show respect to everyone in the company they come in contact with. And “If we think something is important then” IT IS; and
- He expects not only that all legal deadlines will be met, but “we also expect you to meet – or even beat – our business deadlines.”
Actually the letter could be turned around and used as an affirmative assertion by law firms to new clients as to how they will handle their matter. It would be impressive if firms did so.
Next post will address the fee and billing expectations and a final caveat, if his expectations are not met.
Whenever I get writers block, I like to look at my old standby source of inspiration, 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons For Marketing & Communications Professionals authored by my friend Larry Smith and Richard Levick at Levick Strategic Communications.
As I have preached, preached, and yes preached some more over the past 10 years, the quickest, fastest, swiftest (okay, okay I know ENOUGH already) way to get new business is to visit your clients off the clock. And fortuitously this week, the marketing meditations for Monday through today deal with that very point. They are:
- April 20: “Visit all clients. Visit clients across the street. Visit clients around the world.”
- April 21: “Visit clients without an agenda.”
- April 22: “She who visits clients comes back with work.”
That really says it all! If you would like to read more of my posts over the years on this topic, look here for several of them.
So, start planning your visits to KEY clients, at least.
Well, that might be an overstatement; but a three-part series by Mary Lokensgard on Attorney at Work presents a good outline of an effective referral system to follow. If you do so there is a good chance that you will be guaranteed referrals. They are not automatic and they require work, but if you’re serious about getting new business remember that one of the best sources his referrals (either from clients or other friends and contacts).
In a nutshell the suggestions by Lokensgard cover three aspects:
1. Who is likely to refer to and how to ask.
- Make a list of lawyers who do not do what you do, as well as a list of those who do and are likely to refer to you (and you to them) when there is a conflict or other reason;
- List other non-lawyer professionals likely to have clients that could use your services (and vice versa);
- Let your clients know that you welcome referrals to serve “other great clients like them”; and
- Inform all appropriate contacts of your willingness to refer clients to them.
2. Rules when getting and giving referrals.
- Suggest to referral source that the potential client, for ethical reasons, make the first contact. Subtly remind referrer if you don’t hear from the person;
- With the new client’s permission, let the referral source know the referral succeeded;
- Thank the referral source for the business repeatedly – by email AND handwritten note, and consider a token gift as a thank you; and
- Let the referral source know how things are going with the matter ONLY with the client’s knowledge and consent.
3. Care and maintenance of your referral network.
- Continue to broaden referral network by raising profile by educational and nonprofit activities;
- Stay in constant contact with existing referral sources;
- Look for opportunities to make referrals;
- Show appreciation by entertaining referral sources.
Building a referral network takes work, but can pay big dividends if done efficiently and effectively. Check out Lokensgard’s three-part series for more details.