Often I seek out ideas from the non-legal world that I think will be applicable to lawyers and law firms. One of those sources that I have used before is Michael McLaughlin over at Guerrilla Consulting. Although his audience is primarily made up of consultants, his advice is regularly useful in our world.
In a recent article he offers up “What Clients Want: 4 Keys To Every Working Relationship” which was published on RainToday.com. His advice includes:
- Determine Client’s Expectations – Find out what the client wants to accomplish (e.g., scorched earth vs. quickest resolution of issue), and make that your goal as well. As McLaughlin points out, a “client’s primary expectation is that you finish the work on time, on budget, and with a minimal disruption” and without last minute surprises;
- “Cool It” With Your Expertise – Interesting concept. As a rule – let’s face it – we lawyers have a tendency to tout our expertise, and suggest that we have the solution in hand (no guarantee, of course). “Clients value consultants (read lawyers) whose minds are freed, not hamstrung, by their deep expertise,” according to Michael. What has worked in the past in similar situations may not be the right solution in the client’s current situation.
- Be Prepared to Back Off – Clients value lawyers who act as an “objective early warning system.” What the client may want you to do for them may not be what is best for the client. Further, the client’s team may not be ready for the solution, transaction, fight, etc. Granted, it is difficult to give up a bird in the hand by telling the client they should hold off, but in the long run clients will value “honest, objective opinions on the probability of success…” It’ll pay off in the long run.
- Plan Your Exit Strategy – By that he means, deal with the client’s issue and “exit stage left.” Don’t try to stretch out the engagement or keep your involvement beyond the immediate issue (that doesn’t mean you don’t try to develop more business from that client after you’ve completed the current engagement). I remember when I interviewed the clients of a lawyer-client of mine, a couple of them were critical that the lawyer was always selling more of his services before he even resolved the matter he was working on. McLaughlin sums it up well: “Clients appreciate that your primary interest is in reaching their objectives, not building your business.”