General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division
Pleasing Clients, Tracking Work
By Thomas W. Beaver
In my 20-plus years as a private practitioner in business and commercial transactional matters, two questions persistently concern me: How can I please my clients? How can I keep track of my work? One key to pleasing clients is providing regular status reports. Some of my techniques are obvious but essential:
- Copy the client on every significant letter sent to another party. Include copies of attached documents, such as revisions of draft agreements.
- Copy the client on each significant piece of correspondence received.
- Inform the client of the content of important incoming and outgoing phone calls regarding substantive details-either by phone or letter.
- I now copy the client on e-mail correspondence as well. If the client doesn't have e-mail, I send a letter and sometimes attach a copy of the e-mail.
- If correspondence takes place by fax, send the client a copy.
These techniques of keeping clients updated and informed are not only obvious, they're easy to implement. In fact, my secretaries automatically copy clients on correspondence going out to other counsel. The other steps may require me to remind or instruct my staff to follow through, but they understand the fundamental principle of keeping clients up to date.
I'm also concerned with tracking the work I do for each client. Over the years, I've experimented with a number of methods. My first "system" in 1980 was simply to make notations on a yellow legal pad. About the only feature that qualified it as a "system" was that I used one legal pad exclusively.
My next system used 5x7 index cards on which I wrote critical client/case information. I arranged the cards according to "Today," "This Week," "Within 2 Weeks," and then by month. I also tried a notebook approach at one time that was similar to the index cards. I kept critical information in a three-ring binder, alphabetized by client name. However, there was no prioritization. Knowing what had to be done and when was dependant on my powers of recall, which were gradually diminishing in the fashion so characteristic of this mentally-stressed profession.
By the late-1980s, I began searching for cheap, easy-to-learn, easy-to-use software. I considered early versions of law office management products that today enjoy fairly wide use. However, cost concerns eventually led me to a $12, off-the shelf calendar program. This inexpensive product provided me with a surprisingly useful array of task-management tools: ability to record basic client data, notes concerning work to be done, work completed, due dates, and, perhaps most importantly, alarms that rang on the computer alerting me that something was due. I used this program faithfully, even when my firm networked and installed Microsoft Outlook. However, it did not survive Y2K.
I now use Amicus Attorney 4.0 Advanced Edition (AA4.0) in my solo office, where I employ a full-time office manager/staff supervisor and two flex-shift secretaries. I considered Time Matters, but my staff liked the "look" of AA better. We've had AA 4.0 up and running for about four months, and are still learning how to use it.
Thomas W. Beaver has practiced corporate and general commercial and transactional law in southeast Pennsylvania for 20 years, almost exclusively representing owners of closely held businesses.