It isn’t too late to send a Thanksgiving Day card, at least to key clients.  Why?  As I have commented before, it has several benefits:

  • Avoids religious connotations for those sensitive about such things;
  • You beat the holiday crowd;
  • Don’t get lost in said crowd; and
  • Most importantly, you can, in a truly meaningful way, thank your clients and referral sources for their business and loyalty.

Simple, huh!  The cards can be the everyday drug store variety.  They REALLY don’t have to be pre-ordered with the firm’s name on them.  Actually, they’ll come across as more personal, if they don’t.  Just include your business card.

I have been advocating T-Day cards since 2005 and had clients buy into the idea.  Here a few earlier posts on the topic (unfortunately some links are broken):

Be Especially Thankful to Those Who Help Your Business

Since this is officially “Thankful” week in the United States, let’s not forget all those great clients and contacts who help sustain our law firms and businesses. I got to thinking about how people forget to thank others based on a personal experience last week. It happened early one day when I was contacted by…Continue Reading

Business Development for Solos (and Everyone Else)

Been meaning to comment on some marketing advice I saw on Law Practice Today back in August.  The article entitled “A Business Development Checklist for Young Lawyers” by Kelly O’Malley at Fox Rothschild struck me for two reasons:  her checklist should get the attention of more than young lawyers, and, at least in part, should…Continue Reading

Drats! Time to Think About Holiday Cards – Or Not

One of the most dreaded tasks that lawyers and law firms encounter each year is the annual holiday card marathon. The only exception I can think of that might be more painful is the yearly collection fiasco that goes on in the last month of a firm’s fiscal year.  At least there is obvious value…Continue Reading

BTW Happy Thanksgiving!!

 

 

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.

We’ve all had clients we would like to fire, but may not have had the nerve or want to lose the revenue. I remember a story told at a conference I attended about the small law firm that spent hours at its weekend retreat discussing firing a client that provided 25% of their revenues. Many of the firm lawyers were frustrated in dealing with this client’s people, who could be very unpleasant, demanding or just plain obnoxious. Once the partners agreed on ridding themselves of the client, they spent, according to the story, two hours arguing over who would have the privilege of actually firing the client.

There may be a better way to deal with problematic clients.

According to an article by my colleague at LegalBizDev, Gary Richards, which appeared in the May issue of the UK Law Society’s “Managing for Success,” he suggests three options in dealing with an annoying or slow paying client:

  1. Change the situation.  Either internally without involving the client or, if necessary to do so, then negotiate at the appropriate level to avoid offending your contacts and exasperating the problem. The five steps he mentions should help you with this option.
  2. Accept the situation.  If your firm needs or wants the work irrespective of the feelings toward the client contacts, consider one of four reasons mentioned by Richards as “sufficient reasons to accept things as they stand.”
  3. Leave the situation.  If neither of the efforts above prove fruitful, then let the client know that you will not be in a position to take on additional work, “if the issue occurs again.” Richards agrees this one is a tough choice, but may be the best one under the circumstances.

So, if you have difficult clients, Richards’ article is a must read.

Okay, maybe now is not possible or realistic.  But, ASAP should be your mantra. Especially for clients, but really everyone.  Yes, that means even those you do not want to speak with.

Monday’s meditation from 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons For Marketing & Communications Professionals, by Larry Smith and Richard Levick of Levick Strategic Communications, has a simple mandate:

“Return all calls (the) same day, period.  Exceptions are as follows: None.”

 There’s the story about the annoying client who called all the time, so the lawyer didn’t call her back.  After a number of attempts to reach her lawyer, she gave up and called another firm about her cousin who had just been run over by a Coca Cola truck that ran a red light.

Oops.

Another story was related by a lawyer I heard speak at a conference. He said he never goes to sleep at night without returning every call from that day.  Even at 9:00 p.m.  He said he usually doesn’t have the client’s file at home, but he extends the courtesy of telling the client what time in the next day or two in which he would get back to the client with more information.  He said his clients loved it, and I believed him.

True story: my doctor returned from vacation and called me at six p.m. on a Saturday night to give me the favorable results of blood work done in his absence.  NOW that was amazing!!!  Of course, my blood pressure went through the roof due to his unexpected call, but you can be assured that I became a hell of a referral source for his budding practice.

If you really cannot return a call or email promptly, empower someone to do so on your behalf. They can let the person know when you will connect. If you want to grow your practice, always follow this simple, common sense tactic. Return calls ASAP!

There are many ways lawyers communicate with clients. Whether subtly or otherwise, they do so through their actions, as well as inactions. And either way, these “communications” (or lack thereof), all have a direct impact on the firm’s marketing success.

Brian Callan, a practice management advisor with AbacusLaw, sent an email article, with a play on the letters t-r-e-a-t, in which he suggests five ways to treat clients well, so they know you care for them and are working your tuckus off on their behalf.

Callan’s “secrets” to success include:

  • Timeliness and Responsiveness. Get back to clients promptly (in today’s rapid communication world, that means ASAP or sooner) and be responsive to their call/email. Whichever way clients contact your office, I strongly suggest that you return it within an hour, no more than two. If you are not personally able to do so, then empower someone within your firm to return the call/email and inform the client as to when you will personally contact them);
  • Empathy. Clients want to be listened to and understood. Included in that, I would add, is the need to be treated with dignity and respect, rather than treated as a lesser human being because they didn’t go to law school);
  • Assurance. Obviously, lawyers cannot ethically guarantee results or the outcome of a matter. (That is not to say the you shouldn’t assure clients that you will work very hard to get the best possible result for them); and
  • Tangibles. Send clients copies of letters and other documents, and keep them advised as to the status of their matter. (Two state bars I am familiar with report that 80% of grievances filed against lawyers are the result of a lack of communication and/or inattention to client matters). So, demonstrate in tangible ways that you are working hard for them.

Accordingly, if you are not doing all these things as a minimum, you are making critical marketing mistakes.

If you don’t know you’re not paying attention. Further, you probably are not communicating with them often enough.

Since communications is the biggest problem in all phases of life, it can result in disaster in business. Corporate America is constantly talking to consumers in one form or another, and always assessing their markets.  It should be no different for lawyers.

As I have discussed on this blog before, 80% of grievances filed against lawyers, with two state bars I am personally aware of, are due to the lack of communication with clients, and/or inattention to the clients’ matters.  The headaches those complaints themselves present for a lawyer should be reason enough to improve your communications with clients.  Unfortunately, that is not the case all too often.

Today’s meditation from 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons For Marketing & Communications Professionals by Larry Smith and Richard Levick of Levick Communications is succinct and to the point:

“What’s happened in the last two weeks that’s most important to your client?”

And, the point is very clear.  You need to be so close to your key clients, that you know what is keeping them up at night – whether it is business or legally related, or personal.  Again, if you do not know, you are not working hard enough at relationship building.

Working on a client’s matter is critically important, of course, but so is communicating with clients in a way that they welcome and prefer.  Not just about the case or transaction, but what’s going on in their life.  What is the most important thing to them over the past two weeks — or more recently.

I’m a strong believer in the adage I first heard from a marketing partner, who was a friend and mentor at one of my in-house marketing positions; and it is “marketing is everything you do as a lawyer.” The thought came to mind when I saw an article by Jared Correia on Attorney at Work last week in which he provides five tips for better client communications. Although his article was addressing what a lawyer could do to better manage his or her law practice, it could have just as well been talking about how to market your practice better.

He mentioned technology and how keeping a client informed as to your technical capabilities to protect their information, and how client files could be handled over time, as well as document management generally. Again, keeping clients informed about such things is not just good management, but could serve as a good marketing tool, as a result of effective client communications. Correia also suggests it is good practice management (and I would add marketing) to introduce members of your team to clients, so they are aware of whose working for them and are not surprised by a call from an unknown person at the firm.

The two tips that particularly struck me as clearly deal with marketing issues are:

  • Lack of communications.  According to the NY (which I wrote about before) and NC State Bars, 80 percent of grievances are due to poor communications and inattention to client matters.  Correia suggests regular contact with clients to “just to check in” is much better than waiting to communicate only when you need something. And the best way is to pick up the phone and call them. IMHO that’s just smart marketing;
  • Ask For referrals. In my experience a lot of lawyers are reluctant to ask clients for referrals. Sorry folks, but get with the real world. If you have a happy client it really makes no sense to not ask for referrals, since business people do it all the time. It is not strange to them and is considered a normal business practice.

Correia’s article is a good read and one well worth your time. I particularly liked his “With a twist” addition to each tip.  Communication is so basic to good client relationships.

It should come as no surprise that clients don’t like surprises. Who does?  Well, most of us wouldn’t mind being surprised with a nice Hanukkah or Christmas present about now. But, you get the point.

I have written a number of posts (three listed below) over the past eight years regarding the dangers (and benefits of a few) surprises when it comes to clients.  And I’m sure you can find a gazillion more on the Internet.

But, particularly around this time of year when law firms raise rates (or try to), that is a bad idea. That’s putting it mildly, according to Susan Hackett’s Corporate Counsel “annual rant” on the topic earlier this month.  I remember many years ago, when I was in-house as a marketer, the CFO informed the “C” level staff that the firm was going to raise rates for the third time that year.  In DECEMBER no less, to ensure the January bills reflected the increase.  Well, it was a different era, and I’m sure no firm would be crazy enough to attempt that today in the New Normal.

It isn’t just surprise rate increases that are a problem though.  Any unwanted surprises relating to a client is BAD.  Whether regarding missing deadlines, failure to keep them informed about their matter, bad news of any kind, and so forth.  It’s a value thing, and surprises are anti-value.

So, do not surprise your clients…except for that very nice holiday gift you are certainly intending to or have already sent. BTW, I like surprises this time of year myself.

————-

Clients Abhor Surprises

Surprise Your Clients!

Work on the Good Surprises, and Avoid the Bad Ones in Your Client Relationships

In a similar vein to the old real estate adage, in legal marketing it’s all about contact, contact, contact.  Two important factors need to come into play in building any relationship are how often you are in contact (with clients, referral sources and prospects) and what value those communications add to the relationship.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

In Trey Ryder’s recent newsletter there is an article by his colleague Tom Trush that identified these two elements as being “critical” to successful relationship building. Whether you’d agree that they are critical or not, I would argue that they are at least near the foundation for building any relationship. As Trush points out, building client relationships is not unlike a spousal courtship.  Common mistakes include rushing the relationship before a comfort level.    We know the clients hire lawyers they know, like, and trust.  It is vital then that they believe that their lawyer cares about their problems.

Accordingly, your business development efforts cannot come across as a sales pitch, but rather that the relationship is built on your caring and understanding the client’s wants and needs.  And that you show you care about them by giving them information that they can use in their business.  Some people, like Trush and Ryder, call that educational marketing.

So, the way to build relationships, especially with clients and referral sources, is to communicate often, a lot, frequently, repeatedly (okay, okay I know), and ensure that such communications are worthwhile, meaningful, valuable (enough all ready).  But, the ideas are worth repeating, if you hope to build relationships that benefit your law firm in these economic times.