I met a lawyer a few years ago, who sat on a bar grievance committee in New York. She told me that 80% of the complaints against lawyers involved inattention to the client’s matter and failure to communicate with the client.

From a marketing standpoint, I have preached for years that phone calls should be returned the same day, preferably within four hours. At a client workshop on developing business recently in New York, I reduced that to two hours. Before you are convinced that I have lost touch with reality, let me explain.

In today’s world of instant communications, it is unacceptable to not return clients’ calls or emails ASAP. As I told the lawyers attending the workshop, the call doesn’t initially have to be returned by you personally. It can be made by your assistant, paralegal or associate. If they can’t deal with the matter themselves (sometimes the client only wants a document or a simple question answered), they can tell the client that you are tied up and will return their call at a time certain, if at all possible.

What reminded me of how important this really is to clients was a post on Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips Blog. Jim, who works for the Oklahoma Bar Association, comments on the issue of returning phone calls, and a couple of other posts on the subject – one by his “honorary cousin” Laura Calloway who works for the Alabama State Bar. The other posts are worth a read, even though one may be “snarky to the max” about why lawyers don’t return calls.

Jim points out the need to explain what the firm’s written communication policy is to clients at the beginning of an engagement. And he cautions: “Return those phone calls and stay out of trouble.”

I’d go even one step further. Return those calls and get more work and referrals from happy (vs. neither from unhappy) clients.