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:

  1. 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;
  2. 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
  3. 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.

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, 2015 is almost here. Time to plan your business development strategies for the coming year. One simple one (albeit a feared one by some lawyers), involves seeking feedback from clients to ensure (or improve) the quality of legal services provided. No one needs to be reminded of how tough and competitive the legal marketplace has become.

Mary Taylor Lokensgard, a former practicing attorney, has an interesting post on Attorney at Work today. She delves into the realm of asking for feedback, her take on what it is and isn’t, how to get it, the reason you ask for it, who to ask, what to ask, and finally, how to ask. It is worth a read.

I have my own take on some of her thoughts on feedback, and as usual include them often in parentheses.

  • What it is, what it is. It isn’t a blaming or defensive effort, nor intended to merely gain praise. Lokensgard prefers to call it “corrective feedback.” (In my personal experience feedback has been more positive than negative, and particularly helpful if done by someone other than the responsible/billing attorney. It is better done by the managing partner, the firm’s marketing director, or an outside consultant). She also talks about neutral feedback, which I had not thought about previously and I like it because, as she puts it, it might spark “a new idea that never would have occurred to you if left to your own devices”; and
  • How to get feedback. Start by asking yourself what you want to improve, and who, when and how you should be asking. (I’m not sure that many lawyers would know what needs improvement until they ask the feedback questions, quite frankly. So let’s go directly to the who, when and how);
    • Who should be asked? Obviously that would be clients and former clients. I’ve gained valuable information from asking past law firm clients, more good than you would think. Lokensgard also suggests asking the clients’ non-lawyer staff (not without clearing it of course), and other outside people you may come into contact with in your practice. That may include courthouse personnel, and judges and jurors (not without their permission);
    • When to ask? During and after an engagement. Also, one could seek feedback (more accurately input) at the beginning of the matter which could elicit good information about how matter should be handled. (Here’s Telephone Interview Questions) I often ask); and
    • How should you ask? I have argued for some time the best feedback is obtained in-person, next by telephone interviews, and last, IMHO, in written form. If in written form, I’d like Lokensgard’s suggestion of making the questions VERY specific and detailed enough to obtain a yes or no answer. Clients are busy people too, and often the reason they don’t respond well to written surveys.

The important thing to remember regarding any feedback or client satisfaction program, is that if you don’t do it and there are problems (minor or otherwise), your clients may leave for another law firm in this most competitive market. And you may not even know it until it’s too late.

Actually, I’m not a good listener or at least not as good as I should be. Bad listening isn’t just a malady of lawyers, as it is a common ailment suffered by many, many homo sapiens.  With that said, a post by Annie Little on Attorney at Work points a finger at lawyers when discussing the topic.

She states that that is one reason that “attorneys are among the least trusted professionals.” I’m not sure how much weight I would attach to their listening skills as the reason. Nonetheless, Little lists ways to be a better listener, including:

  • Act Like You Care. This would require a change of mindset by some lawyers to act like they really care and are interested in what the other person – whether a client, prospect or potential referral source – has to say. It’s easier if you maintain eye contact, and avoid looking at your smart phone every few seconds while pretending you are not doing so. It also helps to gain the other persons confidence by focusing on them while they’re speaking for nonverbal clues that will keep the conversation moving ahead in the right direction;
  • It’s Not About You. Try to make the conversation about them so you fully understand their point and don’t respond too quickly or interrupt their thought process. Until the other person has completed their thought, they’re not ready for your comment or input. You are not truly listening if you’re trying to plan what you will say next to show off your expertise. It is better to think and admit if you do not know the answer right then.  Offer to look into it and get back to them later. This could actually lead to paying work; and
  • Silence Is Your New Best Friend. Gaps in a conversation are not a bad thing, and can often lead to the person continuing to speak and share important information. It also can provide respect for you as a listener. Remember you already know everything there is to know about yourself.  So, why not spend the time letting the other person talk and provide you with information you do not have about them and their potential issues.

Bottom line message: the more you learn to be a better listener the more “clients feel listened to. And respected,” according to Little. Further, you won’t have to ask them what they just said.  If we are honest with ourselves, there are lessons to be learned there.

 

Here are some additional posts of mine on listening:

Hush up and Listen!

The Less You Talk, the Smarter People Will Think You Are

Do Clients Wish You Were like a Good Waiter?

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”.

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.