Much has been written to help lawyers with client development. Large firms now commonly employ marketing directors, and many attorneys, including solos and those in small firms, have embraced blogs and social media as a way to reach out to potential new clients. For the modern law firm, marketing to obtain new clients—within the bounds of the rules of professional responsibility, of course—has become an accepted fact of law firm life. Nevertheless, most lawyers will tell you that they really don’t like the concept of marketing and would willingly avoid it if they could.
Perhaps this is because when lawyers hear “legal marketing,” they think of those awful television commercials aired during soap operas and late at night on cable. But, when it comes to effective client development activities, there are viable avenues that don’t require you to wander anywhere near that neighborhood.
In his seminal work Marketing Your Practice: A Practical Guide to Client Development, Austin G. Anderson defines the marketing of legal services as “the total system of legal and business activities needed to deliver legal services that satisfy the needs of clients in an ethical manner and achieve the goals of the law firm.” In other words, law firm marketing is really everything you do on a daily basis to communicate with your existing clients to make sure that they are satisfied with the level of service they are receiving and to encourage them, through the way you handle their work, to continue to use your law firm and to recommend it to others. Thus, legal marketing, at its best, is really nothing more than developing strong personal relationships with your clients and good systems for delivery of legal services to them. The simple steps are outlined below.
EMBRACE THE CLIENT AS WELL AS THE CASE
The longer we practice, the easier it is to forget that clients are generally in crisis when they visit us. Although a legal problem may seem quite manageable to an experienced lawyer, the client is usually saddled with feelings of uncertainty and dread that may cloud his or her judgment and color his or her perceptions of the course of action the lawyer is recommending.
Don’t be so interested in the legal problem that you forget about the person. Build a strong, personal working relationship with the client based on an understanding of what the client hopes to achieve, both legally and emotionally, through the resolution of the transaction or controversy. Making the client feel secure is vital because trust will bring a client back each time a new problem arises.
INVOLVE THE CLIENT
Explain each step of the legal process to the client, not only because it’s your ethical obligation to do so, but because it is the best way to provide reassurance to the client and build a long, productive working relationship.
As William Friedman, former director of the Law Practice Management Program at the Allegheny County Bar in Pittsburgh, recommended in a listserv email many years ago:
Involve your clients in their legal matters as soon as possible and as much as possible. The lawyer-client relationship that develops is much better than those in which the client is not involved. Ask your clients to draft their own case histories, review documents obtained in discovery, and participate in the preparation of pre-trial statements. As a result, clients obtain some appreciation for the amount of time and type of work involved in preparing their cases, gain some control over their own cases, understand the effort and skill involved in being an attorney, and gain a greater sense of trust and appreciation for your services.
Then, as the case progresses, seek out information about common interests you might share with the client to help you maintain the relationship once the case is over.
MAKE THINGS EASY
Give some thought to your workflows to ensure clients feel that providing and receiving information about their matters is simple. Do your clients receive return calls promptly? Do they know who in the office to contact when they can’t reach you, and are they comfortable doing so? Can document review and revision be simplified? Is the process for closing out matters and returning the file at the end of the case smooth?
Improving your workflows to ensure that working with your firm is a pleasure rather than a pain will keep your clients coming back and recommending you to others.
CHECK YOUR SCORECARD AT THE END
Consider surveying your clients at the end of each matter. A 1995 Harvard Business Review article entitled “Why Satisfied Customers Defect” pointed out the important distinction between satisfied and completely satisfied clients. In markets where competition was intense, the authors noted a tremendous difference between the loyalty of satisfied and completely satisfied customers. For example, in the auto industry they found that even a slight drop below complete satisfaction resulted in an enormous drop in customer loyalty.
This analysis also makes sense in the context of a service industry. Anyone who has ever had a haircut can understand how this concept plays out in real life. Even if you received the best cut of your life, if you were treated badly and you have lots of other options, you’re going to try someone else the next time.
The key to maintaining complete client satisfaction—and thus loyalty—is to ask what your clients really think about your firm and your service. Meet with them to discuss how you could best implement the feedback they give, and then make sure they know that you have.
Let great lawyering, client involvement and smooth work processes lead you, painlessly, to marketing success.