Getting off on the right foot with new clients is important. Because happy clients will refer others to your firm from day one. There are several things you can do from the get-go to ensure your clients will be pleased with having hired you.
John Remsen shares “Ten Golden Rules to Make Your New Client Happy” that will help (with my typical paraphrasing and additional thoughts):
- Send a Welcome Kit. It should include all the initial information the client will need – names of the team members, direct telephone numbers, and emails, as well as a letter from the managing partner and firm brochure;
- Understand client’s business and/or personal situation. That can be accomplished by asking questions and, most importantly, listening to your client over 50% of the time; and putting the legal matter into the proper context;
- Meet or exceed expectations. As Remsen suggests, work with the client to ensure reasonable expectations on their side, and then beat them (not the client, the expectations). If problems come up, communicate asap;
- Keep your commitments. Set reasonable deadlines, and then beat them. Knowing lawyers are always up against deadlines, set an earlier one for yourself. That way if you promised the draft contract on a Friday, deliver it on Wednesday or Thursday instead;
- Return phone calls and emails asap. In today’s world, returning calls or emails can’t wait a day or two. If you can’t return them, empower someone on your team to do so on your behalf, within an hour or two, to let them know when you will get back to them;
- Learn client’s preferred means of communication. Some people prefer emails over phone calls. Ask;
- Introduce your team. Let the client know who is on your team, and introduce them in person, if possible. Also, the client should be advised that they may contact any of them. It also helps your team feel important;
- Don’t overlawyer a matter. Clients will not tolerate it anymore anyway. Clients will accept less than perfect, particularly when it has an adverse impact on their wallets. Communicate often with the client to ensure you’re on the same page on the work to be done;
- Never surprise your client. This is especially true for an invoice. But, it also applies to anything within your control. No one likes (unpleasant) surprises; and
- Show appreciation. Thank clients, entertain them, and seek feedback so they know you are thankful for their business.
I totally agree with Remsen, if you want to have happy campers as clients, you need to do more than good legal work. You also have to provide outstanding service. These tips will help in doing that.
As we get closer to the holiday season (yeah, they’ll be here sooner than you think), it means there will be more and more networking opportunities. A lot of lawyers, including yours truly, are not always comfortable in every setting. However, these events can be very important to developing business for one’s practice, and should not be avoided due to some discomfort.
I had initially overlooked a post by Mary Ellen Sullivan on Attorney at Work last month I think is pretty good and worth sharing. It provides 10 suggested icebreakers by Debra Fine., the author of The Fine Art of Small Talk. They are:
- “What is your connection to this event?
- What keeps you busy outside of work?
- Tell me about the organizations you are involved with.
- How did you come up with this idea?
- What got you interested in … ?
- What do you attribute your success to?
- Describe some of the challenges of your profession.
- Describe your most important work experience.
- Bring me up to date.
- Tell me about your family.”
Fine and Sullivan also suggest a number questions which might be considered too personal or problematic, which should be avoided. No. 10 above might fall into that category depending on the situation, but obviously it is a judgment call.
Notice that the questions are open-ended. This should keep the other person talking, and that can help overcome any shyness.
Now that all the recent grads and other bar exam takers are about to get their results, particularly those lawyers that will be in small firms or even solo, it is time to give thought to developing business. (Those going to BigLaw, don’t read any further, since those firms don’t want you to learn about marketing, only crank billable hours – thousands of them.)
For the rest, it is time to be thinking about marketing, something not taught you in law school. The smaller the firm, the sooner you need to gain business development skills. Everyone (after a honeymoon) will need to contribute to the success of the firm in that department. Solo’s from day one.
Don’t panic. It is a learnable skill set. Start by going over to Attorney at Work and download the free “25 Tips For The New Lawyer.” It’s an easy read with excellent tips about your new life in general, and marketing too. Another post on that site provides “17 Things I Wish I Knew as a New Associate.”
You might want to read a few of my posts bearing on the subject as well:
Finally, for those going solo, I strongly recommend that you buy a copy of Flying Solo: A Survival Guide for Solos and Small Firm Lawyers published by the ABA. The fourth edition is relatively inexpensive on Amazon.
So, new lawyer start thinking and learning about marketing and business development. Your professional success WILL depend on it.
I was intrigued by post I ran across on Attorney at Work in which several marketing consultants offered their views on what was advertised as the “the best way to get paying client work right NOW.” Although there were many good business development tips provided, I was disappointed somewhat because only one consultant, Gerry Riskin, really offered what I consider practical advice on the “NOW” issue. Not that the other ideas wouldn’t lead to more legal work, it’s just that most will take longer, a lot longer sometimes.
Riskin’s advice? Go see your clients. It is something I have preached in my 28-plus years in the legal marketing business. Visit your clients, past and current, off the clock. It worked for me when I practiced law, and I have had hundreds of lawyers tell me over the years it has worked for them. Clients can be procrastinators just like the rest of us.
A visit often, if not 80% of the time, leads to immediate work. Matters that have been sitting in the clients outbox for a while. Riskin suggests taking along a checklist or article that would be meaningful and helpful to them. He states there is a “zero” chance of visiting 10 clients and not coming back with work. I would agree, and go further by saying that the ROI will be a lot better than that. Maybe not 80% return, but IMHO you will experience a better than 10% return.
Of my Top 10 Marketing Tips, “Visit Your Clients” has always been my No. 1 for obtaining work. It is the best, quickest way to get work “NOW”.
It may not seem fair that lawyers must be both salespeople and producers of the legal product, but that is the nature of professional services. More lawyers today buy into the need to contribute to their own survival. Of course, they are the ones motivated to develop business. Those who aren’t need only to have a conversation with partners who have been let go.
Over the years I have helped prepare hundreds of marketing plans. Too many have ended up on the proverbial shelf not to see the light of day. There are several reasons for this, mainly a lack of commitment by the lawyers. Some of the main reasons for that include:
- Individual lawyers didn’t buy in to the overall firm or practice group plans;
- Plans may been dictated from on high, with little input from the lawyers affected;
- Lawyers just aren’t interested in developing business (that was the case in the earlier days of law firm marketing, and unfortunately too many still feel that way);
- Since the firm will do the marketing, they don’t believe they have to, so why plan;
- May even give lipservice to the plan, and then ignore it; and
- Attitude – “I didn’t go to law school to be a salesperson;”and so on.
I’m referring to marketing plans that are more institutional in nature. They include goals and objectives, vision and mission statements, and focus such things as websites, publicity, advertising, newsletters, etc. Things that individual lawyers hope to avoid or hide from, or leave to other lawyers. Yes, some include lawyer assignments, but we lawyers area clever bunch at finding ways to avoid duties we do not want to do.
If you are still with me, let me emphatically say I am very big on individual lawyer business development (sales) plans. These are specific, actionable, agreed upon plans focused on what each individual lawyer will undertake personally. There is no hiding here.
Okay, okay, you can’t really forget about marketing plans. But, you best give a high priority to individual business development plans that will get the lawyers to commit to bringing in business; rather than assume that the firm or other lawyers will keep their plate full.
The goals and objectives of the firm and practice groups should already be in place. And yes, the individual plans must fit into the overall plan of where the firm and practice group wants to go. But, if you don’t focus on requiring individual, actionable business development plans, I wish you luck in getting the lawyers to contribute to the success of the firm.
P.S. Ran across an interesting twist relating to marketing plans in a post by John Hayes on B2C blog. He starts out by saying he too is opposed to marketing plans, but he doesn’t mean it either. He encourages more of a real world approach to planning.
Read a post on the Cordell Parvin Blog about the reasons your client development efforts may not be working. I’ve heard lawyers complain over the years how they are doing “stuff,”, but nothing seems to happen.
I’ll put a different twist on Parvin’s post by suggesting ten tips (using his thoughts) you can use to improve your business development efforts:
- Do more than good work. Clients may not fully appreciate what the value of your work product is (most didn’t go to law school afterall). So, you need to let clients and potential clients know about you and your firm, and what you could do for them;
- Prepare a plan. You need to prepare your very own personal, focused business development plan;
- Implement the plan. Maybe it isn’t fair you have to both sell and produce the work product. Well, that’s life in the personal services business. Keep the pipeline fed, using the tools at your disposal or the work eventually will not be there (ask many partners let go by law firms). Look at Kane’s Top Ten Markting Tips for some ideas in getting started;
- Educate clients vs. selling them. Nobody likes to be sold anyway. Personally, I sell myself, after being educated about the product or service, and why I should be interested in it. So, educate clients and prospects about the reasons and benefits of hiring you;
- You need to be very focused. That is the reason for having a thoughtout plan you will implement. That doesn’t mean you can’t take work that comes over the transom, or change it. But, don’t lose sight of the plan. You can change it as long as part of a thoughtful refocusing process;
- Be client-centric vs. self centered. That begins with understanding the client’s business, industry, and goals of the organization/client contacts. Clients have told me how frustrating it is to have to educate lawyers all the time about their business, and the context within which the legal issues come into play;
- You need to raise your profile. Work on being more visible to your target audience through writing, speaking, and networking with trade groups, associations, or community organizations where your desired clients hang out;
- Leave your comfort zone. It’s easier to eat lunch at your desk rather than to implement your plan, particularly when you have billing pressures. But avoid taking the comfortable out. You need to stretch yourself and not forget the importance of the other half of your job;
- Be a team player. Within your firm and with client contacts with whom you deal, look at your job as a joint team effort; and
- Provide extraordinary service. Go above and beyond just good work. That is the minimum in today’s competitive marketplace. which is vital today in the highly competitive market. Clients want more value so consider ways to give it to them.
Be positive, and look for ways that your business development efforts will work for you. Remember, rainmakers don’t get fired.
If I had a penny for every time lawyers have said “my clients love me,” I’d be….well you know.
The problem is that often lawyers do not understand. They assume, based on their continuing to receive work and not having heard about serious concerns, that everything is hunky-dory.
Richard Levick at Levick communications in a post on LinkedIn warns against such complacency. He hates to hear those words from his folks and cautions that the comment “’the client loves us’ is a favorite phrase of either the easily pleased or easily fooled.” Rather what he asks his people is how can clients “love us more?” Law firm leaders should ask the same question.
Some questions that might detect the love:
- Is the love experienced at all levels of the organization? Not just the daily contacts but all the way up the decision-makers who hire and fire law firms?
- Is your contact in a position to speak for the feelings of the entire organization? Bad vibes anywhere in the organization, including those who don’t do the actual hiring, can help poison the well;
- Is the firm offering better and deeper services to countermand the offerings made by other competitive suitors?; and
- What can we do to retain and grow client love? Saying that “the client loves us” is really saying “we don’t need to change a thing.” Therein lies the real danger for any firm.
Levick put it best when he summed up with “True love demands that we change and evolve every day.” I fear it is an easier feat for a communication firm than for many law firms, unfortunately.
Ran across an interesting article on JDSupra Business Advisor by Josh Beser. He offers good advice on how to follow up after meetings, so they don’t end up having been a waste of time. First, he tells a story about meeting with an unhappy associate and how he gave free advice. And then sometime later, not having heard anything in terms of a thank you or buzz off, he received an email requesting additional unrelated advice from the same attorney.
He was put off by the failure of a “follow up” by this young lawyer. And, remarked that he would waste no more time with this person. My sentiments exactly. I too am asked and give free advice occasionally. But, if I don’t receive some follow up (including a thank you), they’re off my list.
Although Beser’s advice addresses meeting follow up, he says, one “could adapt this framework for following up with people you meet” at networking events, but I gather he was primarily referring to one-on-one meetings whether in-person or by phone.
His suggestions and some of my thoughts include:
- Take notes during your discussion. Obviously, that will be helpful in remembering the conversation and following up with the person. It also shows real interest in what the person is saying;
- Follow up by email (and a handwritten note, I suggest). I like his idea about make the email brief and easily readable on a smart phone. Yes, do both email and a note, start the latter with “Again, I want to take the opportunity to thank you……etc.” Such notes have a real impact IMHO.
- Include actions for each follow-up. Not only should the email be brief and to the point, but it should include numbered action items and/or comments on points of interest discussed;
- Save something for later. Hold back something to follow up with at a later time to keep the conversation going, and have a reason for contacting the person again, particularly if they did not respond. The first time might have been bad timing on the recipients end, and they could have just overlooked your email among the myriad of emails we all receive; and
- Schedule a three-week check-in. For some of the reasons above, follow up again. As I tell the lawyers I coach, NEVER leave action items in the other person’s court. Always, follow up.
Beser provides two examples of follow up emails, and they are well worth a read on how to follow up on meetings. And don’t forget to thank the other person for their time, sage advice, comments, or whatever.
P.S. Thanks to Dee Schiavelli for the heads up on this article via LinkedIn.
Apparently not too many firms according to an online “Leadership Matters” survey (a collaboration of TheRemsenGroup and Sterling Strategies) reported on the Managing Partner Forum this week. The survey sought data on individual lawyer contributions to their firms in the areas of financials, client satisfaction, people development, and firm processes/procedures.
What particularly caught my attention was what 56 law firm leaders reported regarding client satisfaction; to wit:
“91% have ‘limited’ or ‘no’ measurements of client satisfaction.”
Ouch! The danger relating to that statistic should be self-evident.
Further, as it so happens, a post this week on Law Practice Matters blog by Erik Mazzone talked about why law firms should track client satisfaction. It cited an article by the Australian Beaton Research + Consulting firm, which reports (based on 10 years of data, according to Mazzone) that like the proverbial canary in a coal mine, client satisfaction is “a leading indicator for the rising or declining fortunes of the law firm.”
It really doesn’t take a flash of brilliance to figure out that dissatisfied clients are the death knell for any law firm. Clients may not even complain, they’ll just take a hike. Is there really any need for a firm to be convinced that it should undertake immediately an effort to determine if there key clients (especially) are satisfied?
Mazzone suggests two survey tools (Net Promoter Score and SurveyMonkey) that can help obtain client feedback. Personally, I prefer in-person or telephone satisfaction surveys over written or online ones. The feedback is better, more detailed and more reliable. (See an earlier post of mine on suggestions on how to do that.)
Every law firm better give a darn whether their clients are satisfied – by asking them and not relying on the billing partner’s say so – or they might just regret it.
Often clients don’t actually fire law firms, they just walk away. Sometimes lawyers don’t even know it. The client simply gives work to another firm
I ran across a post that spells out numerous reasons law firms get fired on Mike O’Horo’s RainmakerVT site by Pam Woldow, and the telltale signals you should recognize.
Some of the common reasons include:
- too many surprises
- exceeding budgets
- excessive lawyering and fees
- lack of appreciation for client’s internal deadlines
- indifferent communication and poor responsiveness to client needs
- not understanding the clients business or industry
- lack of fresh ideas or approaches to matters
So, what are some of the signals indicating your firm is in trouble:
- Slowdown in new client matters with lame client excuses;
- Your firm is one of several firms asked to respond to a client RFP;
- Challenges to the firm’s work product and processes, and invoices or some trivial issue;
- Unusual delays in clients returning calls or emails, or a break down altogether in client communications; and
- Your client contact blames higher-ups for whatever has become an issue in the relationship.
If you recognize any of the symptoms above, you need to change the situation ASAP, especially with key clients. That means contact, contact, contact containing continual (and meaningful) communication [okay, okay, a bit much on the alliteration]. The important point is you do not want to get fired by an important client for your failure to recognize what things could bring it about.