Building on Key Capital: Your Current Clients

Volume 38 Number 6

By

About the Author

Mary E. Vandenack is founding and managing partner of Parsonage Vandenack Williams LLC in Omaha, NE, a tax, estate planning, business, and health care boutique firm.

Law Practice Magazine | November/December 2012 | The Client Service IssueYOUR LAW FIRM'S MOST IMPORTANT AND OFTEN-OVERLOOKED SOURCE OF NEW BUSINESS IS ITS EXISTING CLIENT BASE.

A satisfied client usually prefers to continue receiving legal services from the same source, rather than repeating the hard work of vetting new law firms and developing a good relationship with a new lawyer. Is maintaining and building on existing relationships with current clients a priority? If you have become focused primarily on obtaining business from new clients, you may be overlooking one of your best sources of additional work: your current clients. Obtaining work from your current clients is generally easier, less costly and less time-consuming. And satisfied clients also make great referral sources. A client focus has a natural practice-building effect. Here are 10 tips you can implement to get new business from existing clients.

  1. Inform Clients About New Laws and Regulations.

New laws and regulations that may affect your existing clients create abundant, and often-overlooked, work opportunities for you. Your clients may not even be aware that laws and regulations have changed. You can be of valuable service by informing your clients about changes in the law and how these changes will affect them. Providing that kind of information to your clients will make it clear that you are paying attention to their legal needs and will help strengthen your relationships.

The typical approach for law firms is to send a newsletter to clients and prospective clients informing them of regulatory changes. The truth is that clients are inundated with newsletters and email and may not take the time to read yours. And even if they do read it, clients can easily miss important information in mass-mailed newsletters. Consider instead a targeted, personalized mailing to just those clients that you have determined are most likely to be affected by the new law.

For example, there are likely to be significant changes to the tax laws on January 1, 2013. Make a list of the significant changes, such as potential changes to the estate and capital gains taxes, and of the various new taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act. Have an associate or paralegal review client information and identify those affected by these changes. Send each of these clients a personal letter advising them of the possible impact and identifying actions that should be considered.

For a more personalized high-touch approach, make a personal phone call followed up by written information that the client will be expecting and can read and consider at his or her convenience. When you take the time to make a call to let the client know that the new act is going to affect their health-care plan and provide counsel for preparing for the changes, the client will definitely notice that you are looking out for them.

  1. Build a Database or Information Management System That Helps Identify Client Needs.

Going through hundreds of files to identify clients for a targeted mailing is a major undertaking for your staff. Consider instead building databases or using your client’s management software to identify aspects of work that you have already done that can form the basis of future notifications.

Start with a fairly simple approach by creating a summary file for each client. Then create a project summary for each project accomplished for the client and save it in the summary file.

Going back through closed files is usually too time-consuming, so start with this new process now. Every time you handle a project for a client, create a project summary. Make it simpler by creating a standard form that your paralegal or assistant can complete.

Once you begin saving project summaries, a review of just one client file provides details of the projects accomplished and helps you identify other legal needs the client may have, as well as projects that were previously accomplished but are now in need of updating as a result of changes in the law. If a firm doesn’t have a database or client management software, the summaries are available in one file for quick review. For firms with databases or more-sophisticated client management software, summaries can be incorporated to help facilitate review of client information for purposes of targeted mailing.

Once a system is developed, your firm will be in a position to readily inform clients of changes. For example, a firm that can access a list of all client companies for which operating agreements have been prepared can easily target and advise all these clients of the need to review and update their operating agreement in light of the most recent uniform limited liability company act that many states have passed.

Remember to send targeted mailings in small batches in the beginning. If the mailing is successful, your call volume may be more than you anticipated and your ability to respond quickly may be affected. How many clients can you reasonably respond to if they called? The first few mailings should go to no more than this number of clients. You can then base the number of future mailings on the response you receive.

  1. Build a Blog.

There are many ways that lawyers and law firms can use blogs to foster client satisfaction and generate new legal work. One effective approach to build on current client relationships is to create a client-focused blog. Such blogs provide timely and useful information on topics that matter to your clients. Make your blog a valuable resource by including links in your posts to reference sources and tools that will be particularly helpful to your targeted clients.

An informative blog that is a useful tool for clients should be limited in scope, well organized and a quick, easy read. Such blogs should cover a limited number of practice areas, and should be divided into searchable categories. Categories should be named carefully to ensure that clients can easily find the information they’re looking for.

Avoid opinion in the client-focused blog. While some blogs are all about offering opinion, the client-focused blog should be all about keeping clients up to date on legal information that will help them in their endeavors.

Once you have built your blog, let your clients know about it. Send a notification and encourage subscriptions. Then let client requests drive your blog’s content. Ask your clients what topics they’d like to read more about on the blog and make sure you cover them. If you have received several calls in the past week on a particular topic, you know it’s a good bet for a post on your blog.

Limit the length of posts to no more than two short paragraphs. If the topic requires more information, then prepare a full-length article for your website and provide a link to the full-length article in your blog post.

Blog posts should be written in active and simple language. Avoid law review-style posts featuring long-winded phrases with weak impact. Give clear examples of how legal changes may affect your clients or their businesses. If you represent closely held companies, avoid focusing on issues affecting publicly traded companies. (You can always set up a separate blog targeted to prospective clients rather than current clients and cover issues of the clients you hope to attract there.)

  1. Know Your Clients.

One of the biggest challenges of all practicing lawyers is finding enough time. Whether you operate on hourly rates or you use flat fees, time is precious. Meeting socially with your clients on a regular basis is not easy, but it’s important to find ways to stay connected with them, even when time for lunch meetings seems nonexistent.

Make the time to get to know your clients. When you take on a new client, visit them. If it’s a business client, schedule a meeting at their site and request a tour. Don’t charge for the visit. Take a second attorney or a staff member along. Ask a lot of questions. Ask for client brochures. Review the client website, and let the client know you have done so by asking questions about it, too.

Keep yourself informed about the business of your clients. Subscribe to industry newsletters. Find out which publications your clients read and then read them, too. While reading, try to identify legal issues on the cutting edge of the client’s industry. Discuss these issues with the client and ask for his or her input that will help you spot problems as they arise.

  1. Notice Your Clients.

Pay attention to what your clients are doing. If you learn a client has been named to a board or has received an award, offer congratulations on this good news. If a client’s son wins the state wrestling title, acknowledge it. Cut out the newspaper photo or article and send it to the client with a note. Save a copy in your file so you can remind the client about the success 10 years later.

Send thank-you notes. An email is better than no thank you at all, but give thought to mailing an old-fashioned handwritten note. Your thoughtfulness will be noticed—especially in a time when everyone else is sending emails.

  1. Let Your Clients Know All That You Do.

Letting a client know all that you can do for them is a significant challenge. It is surprisingly common for a client to fail to realize that the attorney who drafted his will and trust can also provide a premarital agreement or a real estate agreement. Find ways to let clients know your full range of services, as well as the services offered by other members of the firm.

Regularly update your website profile as well as your profiles on social networking sites. Attorney profiles often fail to reflect current practice area strengths. (But do check your jurisdiction’s advertising rules regarding the use of the terms “expert” or “specialist.”)

Use social networking to help keep clients informed of your various skills. Post or tweet on timely topics and rotate your comments through your full range of practice areas.

  1. Introduce Clients to Other Attorneys at Your Firm.

Make sure that your clients know other attorneys in your firm. Your association with competent partners and associates reflects well on you. When clients realize you have skilled colleagues who can support you in representing them, they will call more often. Let the clients know the capabilities of those to whom you make introduction

  1. Take Good Care of Your Clients.

Always provide top-quality work, but don’t forget to stay in regular communication, too, especially if you are behind in delivering something you have promised the client. Focus on what the client needs. Listen carefully. Top-quality legal service with a personal touch will never be replaced by legalzoom.com—not even in certain “commodity areas.”

Bring up the cost of any project before the client does and before you start working on it. Be open about projected costs. A dentist can tell you how much it will cost you for a crown. Take the time to determine fees and then let your clients know what your work will cost them. It isn’t usually the fee itself that is the issue, but the fear of not knowing it in advance and the shock when the invoice finally comes.

  1. Patronize Your Clients’ Businesses When Possible.

Using your client as a vendor for your law firm is an easy way to stay connected. If you represent an office supplies store, buy from that store when feasible. If you represent a printing company, use their services for print jobs when it makes sense. Not only will you be supporting your clients, but you’ll also have a better understanding of the issues they face with their customers. 

  1. Help Clients Become Referral Sources.

Most people like to be helpful to others, and your clients would like to help their friends and business associates find the right lawyer. When you are looking to take on more business, let your current clients know. If you seem too busy, they may assume you don’t have additional capacity and may not want to refer potential clients who may only cause a delay in completion of their own legal work.

When your clients do refer new business, be sure to express your appreciation. Send a thank-you note. Make a phone call. Take the client to dinner or a ball game. People tend to keep doing the things that they know are appreciated.

If you apply these tips, you will find your law practice developing a stronger client focus, which will have a natural practice-building effect. The legal business is first and foremost a service business. Excellent service and a focus on clients will keep your practice growing. Your current clients are invaluable assets; pay attention to them and build from them.

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