For more than 17 years I’ve worked in legal marketing, I’ve been keenly listening to clients about how they choose their lawyer, what irritates them and why they leave. I read surveys, attend public and private panel sessions that profile clients and their preferences, and I interview clients at every opportunity.
If you’re in a business, such as law, which centres on attracting and keeping clients, your marketing — and all other business strategies — must be informed and guided by client preferences. If you’re not understanding, responding and anticipating their needs, you will never reach your full potential. Start listening, and if necessary, start asking. Gratefully, clients will normally tell you very clearly what works and what doesn’t.
Here are the nine most common themes clients want in their lawyer:
1. Know my business
Don’t learn on my dime. Come to the table with a good understanding of our industry, our history and nuances, and a map to our landmines. Ask to attend a management or board meeting to get deeper insight into our business.
2. Don’t sue us
If we’re friends, and I pay your fees, don’t let your partners take a swipe at me.
3. Ignore me at your peril
I don’t always need the answer, the final document or the update, but I do want to be acknowledged if I leave you a message or send an e-mail. Tell me when you’ll be available. I’d even be happy to hear from your assistant.
4. Show me value
Concern yourself with demonstrating value. If you write off some time on my invoice, show me. If we can learn together or attend a CLE, invite me. If you or your firm can help me in other ways, please tell me.
5. Communicate with me
Help me understand what’s going to happen during our time together, explain your billing method so I don’t have to ask, keep in touch with me while the file is active, and help me manage the stress related to my legal issue. Explain to me who’s on my file and why. (They shouldn’t be too junior or too senior.)
6. Stay in touch
Even when there’s no active file in play, I want to hear from you occasionally. If you treat our work as transactional, I will too and will reconsider where to send each new matter. There will be no loyalty to you because you’re not investing in our relationship or staying in touch with our business.
7. Seize opportunities to learn about us
If a piece of work went to another firm, by way of RFP or otherwise, ask me why you weren’t selected. Give me the chance to discuss this with you. Perhaps you’ll be better suited next time, or even better informed, but you won’t know if you don’t ask.
When we conclude a piece of work, invite me to provide some feedback on what went well and what could improve. Lawyers never ask me about this and it’s an effective way to increase loyalty, provided it results in service delivery improvements.
8. Manage my expectations.
Don’t surprise me with your bills. Under promise and over deliver when possible.
Avoid telling me what I want to hear, instead, prepare me for the worst outcome.
9. Anticipate my needs
With your experience you ought to know what I will need and want at every stage of this matter. If you provide it without my asking, you appear thoughtful and intelligent, but you’ll also gain my loyalty because you clearly have my interests at heart.
Law students to seasoned partners ought to commit these to memory and practice them daily. It’s a formula for success. How do I know for sure? For 17 years clients have told me so.