Running a solo law practice requires a tremendous amount of energy. On the one hand, you must generate sufficient business so that you have a law practice. On the other hand, you have to take care of the clients that you have so that you don’t lose them.
For some excellent advice on obtaining clients, I suggest that you check out How to Capture and Keep Clients: Marketing Strategies for Lawyers (edited by jennifer j. rose, ABA GPSolo Division, 2005). I will provide some helpful ideas on keeping clients, which is not the main focus of that book.
To Serve Clients*
Here are ten important ways to keep your clients happy. Use these in your practice, and you will have happy clients. Well, there is never a guarantee of a happy client, but you will have at least increased your odds.
- Listen to your client. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But sometimes it is difficult to know what clients really want or what’s best for them. For instance, I once had a client who wanted to sue an employee for setting up his own business with some of the client’s customers. He was also a minority shareholder in the client’s company. This litigation would have cost tens of thousands of dollars. Instead of just drafting a complaint, I asked my client, “Were the customers taken important to you?” When he said no, I knew what to do. I negotiated a settlement where my client and the ex-employee each agreed to a non-compete against the other’s customers, the former employee paid for equipment that he took when he left the company, and my client got the company stock back for nothing. I did deprive my client of the visceral pleasure of seeing the scoundrel ex-employee dragged into court, but he saved a lot of money.
- Communicate clearly with your client. Many potential clients come to a lawyer’s office with the anxiety of having to deal with a legal matter that is crucial to them about which they understand very little. Take time explaining the legalities so that they really understand them. It’s no excuse to say that it is too complicated for your client to understand. Remember, it was Albert Einstein who said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” This way clients will not be surprised if a matter goes in a bad direction. They will still be disappointed, but they are less likely to blame you if they understand all aspects of their case up front.
- Don’t talk down to your client. You may not even realize that you are doing this. I suggest that you not trust your own judgment in this matter, but that you ask someone about this who has seen how you behave with your clients. You might be surprised by the answer, and no matter what the answer you will almost certainly learn something useful.
- Respect your client. Return phone calls promptly and show up for meetings on time—or even early so that you will have the time to answer any last-minute questions. Your clients should respect your time, and you should respect their time as well. Showing up on time is one way of doing this.
- Maintain consistent financial policies with regards to fees. Even if this might be a bit tough on clients sometimes, they typically will respect you for your professionalism, whereas making special adjustments on every bill will make them wonder if they are getting adequate value for your services. Being consistent does not preclude adjusting a bill down occasionally if you decide that it is for a good reason, but don’t make a habit out of it.
- Stay in touch. Even if there are no new developments, it is smart to stay in touch with a client about an active matter. If too much time goes by without hearing from you, clients may begin to imagine that all sorts of bad things are happening, many of which they will figure are your fault. Sometimes all that is needed is a brief e-mail.
- Assist your client anyway that you can. When I take on new clients, I typically make all my resources available to them. Draw on all your resources for your clients—bankers, accountants, lawyers in other fields, and any other professionals. I have a great jewelry designer and manufacturer whom I recommend to anyone expressing an interest in jewelry.
- Be available when your client needs you. This is a tough one. You have a personal life (I hope—if not, get one immediately). So there will be times of conflict. However, you can at least give the impression that you are available 24/7 by saying to your client, “If you really need to speak to me at any time, don’t hesitate to call me on my cell phone.” Oh, yes, and give them your cell phone number. Most clients will be too polite to take you up on your offer, so you won’t be hearing from them on weekends, but a couple clients might call you. However, those who do call you on the weekend would probably do that anyway, even if you hadn’t invited them to do so.
- Have a sense of humor. A sense of humor can lighten a tense moment or fill a lull in the discussion. It can also help you develop a closer relationship with a client by relaxing him or her. Just be careful not to overdo it or use it at the wrong time.
- Share some personal information. Be open about yourself in some of your conversations when the time is right (not in the middle of an intense discussion of clients’ legal issues). When they speak about their family or outside interests, remember to ask about them the next time that you see them. If they mention an interest in foreign films, send them a link to a local foreign film festival if you happen to see one announced online.
What Goes Around Comes Around
If you work diligently on a matter and treat your clients well, your clients will feel like you care about them and also will feel confident that you are representing them well. They will also have an easier time when it comes to paying your bill. That’s their way of being nice to you.
* Five bonus points for readers who get the double-meaning of this title. (Hint: Search on the Internet for the phrase “To Serve Man.”)