Doing legal work can be highly unsatisfying at times. Usually, your clients won’t even glance at the work you spent hours completing, but you can pretty much rest assured that you’ll hear from them when they receive the bill. Unless there is some tangible result, like a large settlement in the client’s favor at the end of a lawsuit, you are unlikely to be recognized for the quality of your legal work. So how can you ever keep your clients satisfied and ensure they come back again?
As tough as it may be to accept, your clients have no idea whether your work product is good or not most of the time. But if they don’t like the way you interact with them, you better believe they will find their legal help elsewhere. To keep your clients satisfied for the longterm is easier said than done, but it’s really just a matter of doing little things that go a long way. The following 10 tips will give you some ideas for how to keep your clients satisfied and give you a better shot at success in building a law practice.
1. Sometimes your job is just to shut up and listen
The practice of law involves a great deal of speaking, giving advice, and voicing your opinion. But sometimes we let that tendency interfere with our ability to listen. In some situations, all a client wants is to vent to someone, and unfortunately, many times that someone is you. However, if you handle these situations correctly and just give your clients a chance to fully express themselves, your clients will get the sense that you really do care about them. They will feel more valued, and in turn, they will likely stick around and listen to you when it’s time to give your advice.
2. Treat clients like people, not like a job
It is difficult to admit because we invested so much time and money going to law school, but at the end of the day, providing legal services is very much a customer service industry. Our job is not just to draft documents and file pleadings, but also to make sure our clients are happy at all times, even when things are going terribly wrong. If we are just pumping out documents like a computer, eventually, we will be replaced by them. Little things like asking your client how their family is doing or how their week has been can go a long way towards establishing a closer, more personal relationship…and remember, a personal relationship is much harder to terminate than a pure business relationship.
3. Be willing to take a pay cut at times
This is a very polarizing issue in the legal profession. Some will say, never charge less than your current going rate because you are undervaluing your own services. Others disagree completely. When it comes down to it, law is a business just like anything else, and customer acquisition costs happen to be high in the legal industry. So when you’ve acquired a potential lifetime customer, you should do whatever you can to ensure that this customer keeps coming back. That means, if a client contests a bill, think about being flexible with your rates on that matter in order to satisfy that client in the short term, with the interest of keeping the client around for the long term.
Why do you think restaurants give you a discounted meal if you wait too long to be served? Because they want you to have a good experience so you’ll come back! Treat your clients like valued customers and they will become repeat buyers of your services. Plus, satisfied clients are your most powerful marketing channel. Clients that have a favorable experience working with you are highly likely to refer you more business in the future.
Also, you may consider lowering your rates for first time clients if they indicate that they can’t afford your fees, especially if you are a younger lawyer looking to find more clients. It can be worth it to get clients through the door now, and wow them with your affordable, professional legal services because of the potential for repeat business and referrals. Maybe they can’t afford you today, but doing them a favor will certainly keep them coming back to support someone who supported them early in their career or business.
4. Be humble and let clients make their own decisions
Yes, you went to law school. Yes, you passed the bar exam. No, you don’t know everything. Understand that your job is to provide your clients with all the necessary information to make intelligent and informed decisions, but you are just their lawyer and advisor, not their parent. So when your client chooses to go in a different direction than you advised, respect their decision. As long as you did your duty and advised them of all the possible pros and cons of the various courses of direction, they are the ones that will have to live with the consequences of a bad decision, not you. Being overly controlling is likely to rub clients the wrong way, especially if they are newer clients and you don’t have a long history working together.
5. Answer every call possible, even if you’re busy
You may think this one sounds crazy and there’s no way this can happen. But there is absolutely nothing that irks a client more than a lack of responsiveness. As unreasonable as it may seem, clients expect instant accessibility to their lawyer. The better you can be with your availability for them, the more success you will have at keeping your clients satisfied.
Many lawyers have a funny way of being “out of the office” or “in a meeting” every time you call their office. If you are really too busy to take a call from a client, you should at least think about getting on the phone and letting them know that personally and telling them that you will return their call at the earliest convenience. Anyone can relate to being busy and not having time for the call, but when the secretary just says you are “out of the office” all the time, it gives people the impression that you don’t value their business. If you want to build a client base that will work with you forever, treat your clients like your family. If your spouse called you at work, you’d probably take the call even if you were busy.
6. Manage expectations
This one goes along with taking every call you possibly can. As lawyers, we tend to be pretty decent at managing expectations with respect to winning and losing cases or the likely outcome of a deal. However, few lawyers take the time to discuss expectations from the perspective of a service provider. For example, if you know you’re going to be unavailable for a week, it might be a good idea to email or call your active clients and let them know. While the result might be the same, in that you will still be unavailable to them, managing their expectations for that week can mean the difference between a happy client and an unhappy client.
7. Have empathy during tough times
Many legal matters are difficult to go through, so having empathy for your clients’ struggles goes a long way. Sometimes just saying something as simple as, “I’m so sorry that you have to go through this” or “I’m here to talk you through this if you’d like” is all it takes. This connects closely to #5 and #6 in being more than just a lawyer. You are dealing with people who have approached you because something has gone seriously wrong in their lives. While you might encounter sticky legal issues everyday and are probably jaded now, these people are stressed, scared and need more than just legal advice. Have some empathy and your relationship with your client is sure to be better.
8. Communication is key
Managing expectations is one thing, but making sure your client knows what’s going on is another. You should attempt to touch base and update your client as frequently as possible. Not only will this prevent the client from being blindsided by a bill they didn’t expect, but it will also help you avoid malpractice claims. The more your clients know about what you are working on, the less they will feel over-billed or believe they have a reason to claim malpractice. Cover your own butt and help your client by always keeping them informed.
Practicing law is a non-stop, busy career that can be stressful and unsatisfying at times. But it’s important to remember that first and foremost, you are someone that your clients look to for advice about personal issues that matter to them. If you come off as cold and uncaring, or you seem unresponsive and aren’t communicating well, your clients get the impression that you don’t value them as customers. And that’s what clients are – your customers! Treat them like customers and show them that you value your business regularly. Building a successful legal practice is not just about doing good legal work, it’s about building longterm relationships to encourage repeat business and referrals. By focusing on these 10 tips to satisfy your clients, you are setting yourself up for success and well on your way to building a thriving law practice.