Lawyers are smart, well-trained professionals who provide expertise not usually available elsewhere. In the past, attorneys relied primarily on their legal skills to get new clients and keep them. Law firms controlled access to legal information and expertise which put you, the lawyer, in control of relationships, client service quality and fees.
Attorney-client relationships were primarily transactional, and personalized client service was virtually non-existent. In many cases, clients went along with this system to get themselves out of legal trouble or because they believed attorneys knew best and they shouldn’t question them.
Today, it’s different. Legal clients are in control, and you have to adapt your practice to the new legal consumer. Clients tend to be better informed about legal issues largely because the information is readily available online. Most legal consumers only hire attorneys when they’ve reached the point where they can’t handle their legal matters on their own.
According to Avvo consumer research, when consumers hire a lawyer, 52% see you as their collaborator—or equal. Moreover, 41% of legal clients expect to maintain control over most aspects of the relationship and 34% want to direct the legal outcomes to those that most benefit them.
They demand you negotiate flat fees rather than require hourly ones or retainers. They need you to be available for conversations when necessary and to use technology. They also want lawyers who will handle their cases quickly and with efficiency.
Today’s legal consumer demands real “client service” where the “client” is always first. That’s the new normal in legal practice. Your legal consumers expect the same customer experience they receive at the best hotels, banks, and retail stores.
But, beyond what has already been described, what does client service look like for today’s solo and small law firm attorneys? Here are five ways to provide outstanding client service to your legal consumers.
1. Select the right clients
Most experts put this someplace in the middle or end the of your priorities, but it should be first. That’s because you can’t serve clients well who aren’t a good fit for you and your law practice. Poor matches between attorneys and clients lead to ethical problems.
Most retailers don’t serve everyone who walks through their doors and neither should you. Make sure you know who your ideal client is, whether they can afford your services and if you’ll be able to achieve the outcomes they desire.
2. Have an effective and personalized intake process
Potential clients start their legal process by feeling you out, so your first contacts are typically short and quick. They may begin on Avvo’s Q&A or with one of its forms or flat fee services. But, once they decide to hire you, make sure you have a robust, efficient intake process. Design it to first determine if you’re a fit for each other and use your intuition to reject those who aren’t.
If you decide you’re a match, make your potential client feel like they are your only one. It’s best if clients talk to you rather than a paralegal or secretary during the intake process. When they do speak with you, avoid rushing them, being insensitive, interrogating them or treating them like they’re clueless compared to you.
Make sure there are no distractions during the process and few to no interruptions. Also, use technology to make the process accurate, efficient and to involve the client by having them complete the forms themselves.
3. Manage your practice efficiently to reduce costs to your clients
The new legal consumer expects you to keep costs down and handle their cases quickly. They judge your practice as much by how you manage it as by your legal skills. Manage yours with systems in place that allow you to do that professionally. In addition to using technology throughout your firm (while understanding the ethical requirements of its use), set up formal processes for completing work. Never leave clients in the dark about anything related to their case.
Make sure your clients know how long activities take, especially for complex cases, and what they’ll pay for them. Lawyers who don’t manage their firms well can have serious ethics issues with clients. You’ll manage your law firm best if you have a law firm business plan in place.
4. Develop and maintain a personal connection with your clients
Obviously, you don’t need to become best friends nor should you violate any ethics rules to create client relationships. But, your clients want a real, personalized connection with you as a part of their service. They want you to not only to know their case well but know who they are as people.
Often, that includes knowing the names of their kids, pets, and partners, about their employment or the business they own, or about that loved one with medical or other issues. You’ll need to know what is at stake for them personally or professionally in their case. They want good advice related o those problems and to know what could happen in their case. But, they also want to feel like you’re on their side, not the opposing parties.
Once you know their needs, refer them to another service provider outside your practice area or even law for help if necessary. Or, just send them an article you read about some aspect of their lives you believe will benefit them.
5. Make client feedback central to your client service
After practice management for solos and small law firms, client feedback is the most important aspect of your client service. It’s the business development tactic big law firms focus on most because it generates them the highest revenue for them. You’ll need to set up a client feedback system and encourage clients to share issues with you right away. When they provide their feedback, take it seriously. Rectify issues related to billing right away, which can include anything from errors to failing to bill clients promptly.
As importantly, use client feedback to uncover new ways to serve your clients or, perhaps, for developing or expanding practice areas. You can use questionnaires and automated tools but face time is usually the best method of generating useful client feedback. Build client feedback into every matter you accept as part of your firm’s client service.
By making client service one of your law practice’s competitive advantages, you’ll grow your legal brand, have more revenue opportunities and stay in business in this highly competitive legal environment.
Get started today filling in the gaps in your client services by researching what works best in your practice area. Then, put your client service strategy in place and watch your firm thrive.