7 Steps to Building Better Client Relationships

Join me for a CLE on Wednesday, December 6, 2017 about how to cultivate your network, balance client expectations, proactively control social media content, meet client needs, and become more client-centric by exploring the 7 steps to building better client relationships:

  • Capturing better clients
  • Polishing communication skills
  • Advancing client service through technology and staff
  • Managing social media
  • Improving client satisfaction
  • Strengthening client retention
  • Renewing relationships

Topics include how to CYA the right way, how to say “no” gracefully, dos and don’ts when responding to negative online reviews, how to thank clients as part of your everyday, the simple six-step process to stay in touch, and why you should modernize fee arrangements and billing.

Date/Time/Location

Wednesday, December 6, 2017 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Pacific Time. This is a live, online webinar.

Who Should Attend?

Lawyers, office administrators, or staff – anyone interested in building better client relationships.

Group Discounts

Discounts available to firms who wish to register 5 or more attendees. Contact organizer to arrange a discount code before registering: beverly@oregonlawpracticemanagement.org.

Does the Program Include Written Materials?

Yes. Written materials are distributed electronically with your registration confirmation.

Ask Questions/Live Polling

Questions are welcome during the live event. Attendees are also encouraged to participate in live, anonymous polling.

Registration Fee

$25 – Visit the Upcoming CLE page, click here, or choose the Register button below. Secure payment processing powered by Eventbrite. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted. Program materials included in the registration price.

Eventbrite - 7 Steps to Building Better Client Relationships

MCLE Credits
1.50 practical skills pending.

Can’t Attend?

Video and audio recordings of 7 Steps to Building Better Client Relationships will be available to download along with the program materials following the December 6 CLE. Price: $25. Contact me or visit my online CLE store after December 6.

All Rights Reserved [2017] Beverly Michaelis

Missed Opportunities

Are you missing out on opportunities to grow your practice, improve client retention, or expand marketing?  quoteBefore you rush to answer, “No, of course not!” take a little time to reflect….

First things first: What am I talking about and why should you care?

In this context, a “missed opportunity” is an opening where you could have done something, but didn’t. The “something” could be complicated and expensive, which is a justifiable reason to let the opportunity pass.  But more often than not, the “something” is easy and free (or very low-cost).

Missing out on a free or inexpensive marketing opportunity that takes minimal effort is practically criminal.  And with that statement, I’ve answered my other question: why you should care.

Simple, no-cost marketing opportunities

A simple, no-cost marketing opportunity is any opening where you can leverage existing client communication to your advantage. Consider these examples:

Better client closing letters

The typical closing or disengagement letter conveys fairly perfunctory information: “Dear Client, I’m done.  Here’s my bill.  I’m closing your file.”

If you don’t mind missing out on marketing opportunities, continue sending routine, mechanical closing letters.  If you prefer to leverage this existing client communication to your advantage, do the following:

  • Take three extra minutes to humanize and personalize your closing letter.  Show appreciation for something the client did or said during the case.  “I know it was tedious to sift through all the pages of discovery we received, but finding (the smoking gun) completely changed the outcome of the case.”  “I know listening to the testimony of (defendant) wasn’t easy by a long shot, but you kept your composure and it paid off.”
  • Close the door on the task at hand, but not on the client.  Invite the client to call you ANY TIME he or she is in need of help.  Even if it isn’t your area of expertise, you can be the conduit to other lawyers who can assist the client.
  • Cross-sell other areas of practice.
  • Ask for and invite referrals.
  • If you use eNewsletters or Constant Contact marketing add the client to your mailing list (or extend an invitation).  [For a comparison of email marketing services, see this review on attorneyatwork.]
  • Consider enclosing a client satisfaction survey.  More on this next.

Client satisfaction surveys

Are you meeting your clients’ needs?  Or do you assume that client needs are met because you haven’t received any complaints lately?

If the latter is true, it’s time to screw up your courage and start sending out client surveys. A well-written client survey will quickly let you know what you’re doing right and what you need to improve.  Send them with your closing letter, or shortly thereafter.

For free resources and samples, see this post.

TREAT clients well: before, during, and after representation

After slaving over emails, pleadings, contracts, and billings – the “tangibles” of your law practice – you may be surprised to learn that clients place higher value on timeliness, responsiveness, empathy, and assurance.  This phenomenon is encapsulated in the TREAT approach to interacting with clients.  Following the principles in TREAT costs you nothing, but makes a huge difference in how clients perceive you and your firm. Read about how to use TREAT before, during, and after representation in this post. [Online client intake can be managed with services like Lexicata.]

Thank clients for referrals

Nothing says “I take you for granted” more than failing to thank your client for a referral. In reverse order of preference:

  • An email or text is okay, but can come across as cold or aloof to some clients. Use this approach only when you know it fits within the client’s milieu.
  • A handwritten note or card is a nice touch that stands out – hard to imagine any client who wouldn’t appreciate it.
  • A call is even better.  Over the phone the client can hear your tone and true appreciation for the referral. Use this chance to reconnect.  “How are you?  How is (spouse’s name)?”  Yes, it is always possible the client may share news that isn’t 100% positive, but the point is to stay connected.  You may learn that the client you were calling to thank also needs your help.
  • A call followed by a handwritten note may just be the one-two punch of all “thank yous.”  Yes, it involves the most effort and also takes a bit of expense.

Remember: the point here is to thank the person who thought enough of you to send a friend or family member your way.  Keep that in mind when you choose how you’re going to thank clients.

Parting thoughts

This is just a start.  Look for other opportunities in everyday practice to build client relationships, improve client retention, and leverage marketing.

[All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis]

 

Are You Losing Clients?

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.

Read more about TREATing clients well here.

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 [2015] Beverly Michaelis