If your client retention rate is less than 90-95%, something is terribly wrong.
You might react by changing your fee agreement – aiming to “punish” the client who terminates your services after a substantial amount of work is done but prior to a recovery.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve the underlying problem. If you fail to keep one in ten (or more than one in ten clients), it is time for some serious soul searching.
Hybrid Fee Agreements Don’t Solve Client Retention Problems
Don’t get me wrong, hybrid fee agreements have their place. They are very effective in helping lawyers achieve cash flow during long months of toiling away on a contingent fee case. They are also a creative way to address client push-back against the traditional hourly fee approach.
They are not effective in curing client retention woes.
What Does it Take to Keep Clients?
Improving client retention isn’t rocket science. In fact, you can do it by following a simple acronym: TREAT.
T – be Timely
R – Respond to client requests and concerns
E – show Empathy
A – demonstrate Assurance that client matters are being handled competently
T – deliver on the Tangibles. Don’t send emails, invoices, or correspondence riddled with errors.
To simplify: show the same care and concern to your clients that you wish someone would show to you if you were in their shoes.
Remember that Poor Client Retention Can Lead to Bar Complaints and Malpractice Claims
If you need further motivation to kick your client retention up a notch, understand that how you treat clients is connected to everything in your law practice:
- Client satisfaction and retention
- Getting paid on time
- Minimizing fee disputes
- Future referrals
- Avoiding bar complaints and legal malpractice claims
Go beyond TREATing clients well. Do a thorough client relations check-up. This includes understanding the scope of the attorney-client relationship (when you can act and when you need the client’s informed consent) as well as managing client expectations.
Losing Clients on a Regular Basis Just Shouldn’t Happen
I am not currently in private practice, but in regard to client retention, nothing has really changed.
Back in the day, exactly one client terminated our firm. This particular client read about a case in the news that she judged to be the same as hers. She then fired us to free herself up to hire the lawyer who handled the case she read about.
In truth, we dodged a bullet when the client made this decision. She would never have accepted (from us) that her case didn’t have the same value as the one she read about.
I can also share that in all the years I worked for a private law firm, we were on the other side of a client termination exactly once.
My point here is that my firm – and all firms we knew – simply didn’t lose clients. And this is still true today for the majority of lawyers. How do I know?
A large part of my job entails helping lawyers or families of lawyers close law practices. I have been exposed to lawyers who were at the top of their game and lawyers who were not. I also have a substantial amount of ongoing client contact due to these closures.
The truth is the lawyers need to do a lot wrong, and generally for some period of time, before clients jump ship. Therefore, you don’t have to follow my client relations tips or suggestions for TREATing clients well 100% of the time. No one is perfect. But you should keep clients uppermost in your mind just about every waking moment that you are at work.
We All Know What to Do – Why Can’t We Do It?
None of this is really new. So why is it so hard? The number one reason: you are trying to juggle too many cases without the proper resources. You are practicing beyond your expertise and not weeding out cases and clients; you are practicing within your scope, but your caseload is too high; you are unwilling to invest in staff, technology, or other solutions.
Making money isn’t easy. As a result, many lawyers skimp. They try to get by without hiring someone despite the fact they have more work than they can handle. This trap is referred to as “penny wise and pound foolish.” Next week I’ll write about how you can make money by spending money and hiring staff.
All Rights Reserved  Beverly Michaelis