Doing a fantastic job for your clients is a great start, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle—and probably not even the most important piece when it comes to client perception, repeat business and client referrals. The relationship you build with your clients impacts every step of the process, from client confidence in your decisions to client satisfaction with the outcome of the case to word of mouth referrals after the fact. Building a solid attorney-client relationship starts with the very first contact, and continues after the case is closed.
Listen. Ask Questions. Be Empathetic.
Too many attorneys make the mistake of downloading information during the initial telephone call or consultation. In most cases, the prospective client isn’t there for clinical information so much as he is for reassurance. He wants to know that you understand his situation, that he can trust you, and that you’re ready and willing to help. That means taking the time to ask questions and understand his particular concerns, even if the case at a glance looks like a hundred others you’ve handled. Let his concerns guide your discussion and he’ll walk away feeling that you understand and share his concerns—a critical first step in relationship building.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
One of the most common complaints from consumer clients is that their attorneys simply don’t keep in touch. It’s easy to drop the ball on communication simply by waiting to make contact until you have something significant to say. The only way a client will know that things are gliding along smoothly is if you pick up the phone or send out a letter or email and update her. To a great degree, this can be handled effectively and efficiently with templated letters or emails that go out at certain points in a case, letting your client know what’s happened and what comes next. Once the system is in place, that message may take only a few seconds to send out, but will help reduce your client’s anxiety, make her feel attended to and strengthen the bond between you.
Set Clear Expectations…and Live Up to (or Exceed) Them
Set clear, realistic expectations from day one and stick to them. Let your client know exactly what he can expect from you in terms of turnaround time, response time when he calls you, billing, and all of the administrative aspects of your representation. Then, do what you’ve promised. If you’ve told your clients to expect return calls at the end of the day and you’re unable to return a call on a particular day, don’t just put it off: have a secretary or paralegal call the client and explain the delay and when he can expect to hear from you. What seems like impatience in many consumer clients is really just an anxiety about the unknown and frustration over perceived unresponsiveness. Give your client a structure he can rely on and you’ll help him feel that he can rely on you.
Add Value to Your Representation
With a relatively small investment, you can go over and above and provide your clients with more than they expected. Whether this means a financial tips handout for bankruptcy clients, passing along an article about helping children cope with divorce to your family law clients, putting together a weekly or monthly newsletter with useful information for clients, or any other creative idea you might have, let you clients know that you’re concerned about their interests beyond the strict parameters of the case you’re handling. You’ll increase perceived value, increase points of communication, and set the stage for a relationship that continues beyond the end of the case.
Keep in Touch
Communication during the case is critical, as we’ve already discussed, but if communication stops with your closing letter, you’re missing a significant opportunity. Talk with your client at the conclusion of your representation—let him know that you care about his satisfaction and that you’d like the opportunity to represent him in the future or to receive referrals if he has friends or family who could use your help. Continue to offer those value-added tips, articles, newsletters and other material to past clients: not only will you continue to add value to your representation, but you’ll extend the relationship and keep yourself fresh in the client’s mind for the moment when he does need representation again or is in the position to offer a referral.