It can’t be stated too often that a lack of communication is the biggest cause of breakdowns in the attorney-client relationship. And as I have stated before (see my No.5 Marketing Tip from my top ten list), it is most often the reason that grievances are filed against lawyers with bar associations.
Ed Poll has an article in this month’s Law Practice Today where he discusses how to close the communication gap for successful business development. He points out some of the communication failures, and identifies simple strategies for overcoming them.
The failures: (with some editorial comments)
- Lack of responsiveness to phone calls, letters, faxes (and you can add emails. There isn’t ever a valid excuse for you or someone in your office not responding to a client promptly, period),
- Voicemail hell (always give a caller the option to leave a message with a real person),
- Misunderstanding relating to the terms of the engagement (an engagement letter should spell out both parties understanding and expectations),
- Lack of status reports and information on the lawyer’s efforts on client’s behalf (as Ed states, send copies of all documents to client), and
- Inadequate detail on invoices (tell the clients, not only what you did for them, but what the benefits/value of your work effort has been).
Strategies for success:
- Return all calls the same day (as mentioned above, either yourself or have another lawyer or staff person do so),
- Have client names available to persons answering the phone (a client isn’t impressed when asked to spell their name to someone who should know),
- Explain the reasons for your advice and approach, and ask whether it conforms to what client wants to accomplish (helps keep both on track towards the ultimate client goal),
- Visit client off the clock for information/relationship building, and put time on the invoice as a “no charge” (not only is it a great communication tool, but a proven lawyer marketing strategy – see my No. 1 Marketing Tip from my top ten list),
- Seek client feedback (also helps uncover problems or potential annoyances before client takes business elsewhere), and
- Show clients that you appreciate them (and their business).
So, are your client communications a failure or a success? The right answer is incredibly important.