In Law Firm Marketing, It’s All About The Client

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Attorney Has Bad Client RelationshipOne of the easiest things to lose sight of when marketing your law firm is the importance of maintaining strong relationships with current clients.  Every attorney will agree that acquiring new clients is a critical element in growing a legal practice.  However, keeping current clients happy is just as important.  Having satisfied clients improves your firm’s reputation, while also increasing the likelihood of client referrals and repeat business.
Marketing is not just ads, websites, and commercials.  Every time you, or anyone else in your law firm, interacts with a client you are marketing.  When you perform well for clients and when you perform poorly for clients, you are marketing, because marketing is not all about advertising; it is also about relationships.
Know and Manage Client Expectations

Client expectations are not the same as legal needs. Many clients are great at detailing their legal needs.  However, they don’t often express their more specific expectations.  As their attorney, it’s your job to do two things: 1) uncover a client’s unspoken expectations and 2) manage client expectations.

To uncover their unspoken expectations you need to ask a lot of questions.  Ask about past legal experiences your potential clients have had.  Were they satisfied with how previous legal cases were handled?  Get very specific details about why or why not.  Ask potential clients why they chose your firm.  You may have had luck by winning a very challenging case in the past.  However, it may not be a feat you can repeat anytime soon.  If a client thinks that working with you and your firm means guaranteed success, you will need to help them understand that every case is different and there are no guarantees.
This is where a strong retention letter will be very useful.  After you have figured out what your client is hoping for and you have helped to provide them with realistic expectations, put it in writing.  Map out with as much clarity as you can, what it is that you and your new client have agreed upon.
No matter what, don’t give false hope.  If the odds are against your client winning, they deserve to know that from the start.  This does not have to be explained in a way that is discouraging or makes you appear anything less than able.  Remember, you may not be the only attorney they are considering, someone with less integrity may give the impression that the case is stronger than it is. 
Take this opportunity to educate the client, let them into your thought process about the case.  Explain that, while you have an uphill battle ahead, the case is still a worthy one to pursue.  You can be optimistic and in their corner, without misleading them about possible outcomes. 

Stay in Touch

Many attorneys feel that if nothing is happening with a case then they don’t need to be in touch with their clients.  Wrong.  Most clients will begin to believe that nothing is happening with the case because of their attorney’s inaction.  If a case is taking a long time to process for reasons beyond your control, you still need to be in touch with your client.  Let them know that you’ve made calls on their behalf, or that you have thought about what steps to take once the case gets moving again.  Also, you can simply check to see how they’re doing and to let them know that you regularly review their file as you wait for the next step in the process to occur.
Don’t think that because a client isn’t calling you that they’re not thinking about you.  Most clients don’t want to bother you by calling too often.  Nevertheless, they may still have questions they want to ask about the case.  Make sure that your client knows that they can ask you anything, anytime.
Remember to use proper etiquette when speaking with clients.  Don’t interrupt.  Repeat what they’ve said in your own words to confirm that you have listened and taken in what the client has expressed.  Return phone calls.  We all know how frustrating it is when we call someone and they don’t call back.  How much more frustrating is it when you are paying for a service and you can’t get updates or get your questions answered?  Returning calls is a must if you want satisfied clients.
If you truly believe that you don’t have enough time to return client calls, then you need to start thinking of ways to free up time in your schedule.  Do you have too many clients?  Are you spending time doing office work that could be handed over to a virtual assistant?  Don’t try to wear all the hats, delegate when needed and put client needs first.

Regular contact will give the client an opportunity to let you know if something is bothering them before a problem festers.  You don’t want the first time you hear about a client’s complaint to be when you’re contacted by an ethics review board.  Be willing to listen to their concerns.  If you can’t meet a client’s expectations at least try to manage them.  Remind them of what the two of you agreed upon when you took the case.
Even when you follow all of these guidelines, you may still have a difficult client.  It is important to remember that you both have something at stake in the relationship.  You have the reputation of your practice and the client has their legal issue to be concerned about.

Don’t burn a bridge by taking things personally. 

Stay professional.  Be the calm voice in the middle of a client conflict.  Remember, every client is a walking, talking advertisement for your firm.  Even if they are being unreasonable, you don’t want them to harm your firm’s reputation.  Take the high road and know that your relationship with that client will not last forever. 

Happy clients mean a happy law firm.  To grow your practice you need to work hard to get new clients in the door, but you will need to work even harder to meet the needs and expectations of current clients.