Volume 18, Number 7
October/November 2001

The Business of Law

"I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!" Remember that famous line from the film Network? That's the way I feel about most service providers and manufacturers who fail to meet their representations and fail to provide the quality that we, as consumers, have a right to expect when making purchases.

As well, lawyers are service providers, and their clients are the customers. Are your customers getting what they deserve?

One of my colleagues in a law firm recently burned an important bridge. The clients in a major lawsuit were difficult people and demanded what the lawyer believed were unreasonable response times. For example, they might call him on a Sunday evening (which he accepted) and then expect a full-blown responsive document by the end of Monday, which was something the lawyer could not do because of the complexity of the matter. Instead of appropriately managing the clients' expectations and explaining to them the need for a more deliberate response, the lawyer got angry and fumed over the process. He was able to conclude the matter satisfactorily, but he vowed never to deal with these clients again. They had interfered with his desired way of practicing law.

I found this example troubling because the lawyer gave up a well-paying client, work that he was skilled at doing, and the possibility of future business from this client or the client's referrals. Unfortunately, this lawyer forgot that in the minds of clients, the only difference between one attorney and another is the service and speed of response that they provide. Clients cannot discern whether one brief is better written or if a will is masterfully crafted. But all of us know when we're being treated right, when we're being respected, and when our service provider cares about us. That's what really counts.

Another personal example comes from the world of high-tech products. I had been eyeing the PalmPilot for some time, and finally purchased a PalmPilot III some years ago at an ABA TECHSHOW. But I had difficulty reading the monochromatic screen, and the size of the print was too small for my aging eyes, so I put it aside and went back to hardcopy printouts from my PC calendar that I took with me when I traveled. There were obvious drawbacks with this approach, among them that I frequently left the printouts at home, and when I did bring them, they didn't go far enough into the future for me to enter a new event on the spot. So when I heard good reports about Palm's color model, I ventured into a store and purchased the Palm IIIC.

Over time I have come to rely on it more and more: I take it to legal conferences and shows, enter notes, arrange my calendar, and continuously update my address book.

A couple of problems soon surfaced, however, and I went back to the store where I had bought the Palm to see about getting them fixed. It was 32 days after the purchase, and the store said that it could not exchange the unit for another one because I was two days over its 30-day limit. I went back and forth with the store on this, but ultimately lost that battle. Then I decided to call the manufacturer. Without a moment's hesitation, Palm said that it would send me a brand new (not reconditioned) unit, which it promptly did. But there was still a glitch with it. I worked with its customer service and technical support people for several hours, and we eventually figured it all out.

The bottom line is that Palm's response was outstanding! As far as I'm concerned, it went beyond the required point of service. Palm stayed with me until the problem was solved, not only to its satisfaction, but to mine.

We must remember that as legal practitioners, we provide a service to our clients. Without them, we have no reason to exist as lawyers-our profession would be obsolete. We must find out not only what our clients need, but also what they want. We must communicate with them at their level of understanding. We must find out how they best receive information and then provide it to them in a way they can understand.

Edward Poll, J.D., M.B.A., CMC, is a certified management consultant in Los Angeles who advises attorneys and law firms on how to be more profitable. He is the author of Secrets of the Business of Law: Successful Practices for Increasing Your Profits! He can be reached via e-mail at edpoll@lawbiz.com.

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