The Fastest Way to Lose a Client

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Lawyers How Are Your Communication SkillsMost solo practitioners and small law firms can’t afford to lose a client.

Yet most do the one thing that absolutely infuriates their clients.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about the lack of responsiveness that has become pervasive in the legal profession.

Consider this scenario:

A client engages you to handle an important matter, a matter where time is of the essence.  The client is nervous, maybe even down right scared.  Their financial health and quite possibly their physical well being rest in your hands.  They call your office with a question at 10:30AM on a Tuesday. 

What is a reasonable time for the client to expect a return call? 

Not necessarily an ANSWER to his question but a call acknowledging the issue. 

What is reasonable?  Four hours?  Before the end of the day?  Later that week?

How about never?

Is that acceptable?

Obviously not.

This is a true story.

A client was fired from her job as an executive at a telecom company.  She engaged an employment attorney to help her work out a financial settlement with her former employer.  The attorney worked on a contingency fee basis and the settlement negotiations were in the mid-six figure range. 

As negotiations progressed, the executive began to become more and more anxious. She had no current income and two kids to feed.  Her savings would last at least six months but she hoped to avoid spending it down. 

But that wasn’t even the key issue. 

She was also looking at a terrible (and probably illegal) noncompete agreement that she signed ten years earlier.  Reworking the terms of this agreement also needed to be part of the deal.     

One Tuesday (about three weeks into the negotiation) the executive left a message for the attorney at around 10:30AM.  When her call was not returned by Friday morning, she called again.  She was able to speak directly with the attorney who said he did not return the call because he was: “Busy with an important case.” 

The executive was taken aback but believed she was too far into the negotiation to make any waves with her attorney.  So she swallowed her indignation and hoped for the best.

Things progressed and the settlement worked out fine.  During her review of the paperwork, the executive again left a message for the attorney.  This time a week passed and after the executive left two additional messages, the attorney finally called back.

In this case, the client was angry at the attorney’s lack of responsiveness.  But she felt handcuffed because of the nature of the situation.  Make no mistake; the client in this matter has not forgotten how she was treated.  She is now a senior executive working for another telecom company in the same town where the attorney practices law.  She regularly tells EVERYONE about her former counsel’s lack of responsiveness during this encounter. 

In this matter, the attorney did not lose the client but his past behavior has kept him from realizing several new potential client relationships.

In the past few months I have heard similar stories four other times.

Four other incidents of attorneys virtually ignoring client phone calls. 

And intent is irrelevant. 

When I brought this up to one of the attorneys who was a particularly egregious offender in this regard he responded: 

“I am only one person.  I want to talk with my clients – in real time.  I would love to present them with the issues as they arise and get their feedback and ultimately conclude the matter in a couple of days.  The fact is each client is just a drop in the ocean.  I have almost 120 clients.  How can I return all those calls, and go to court, and negotiate with opposing counsel, all at the same time?”

Something is dreadfully wrong with this situation. 

There is no excuse for not returning a client’s phone call or email. 

None. 

I do not care how busy you think you are.

The easiest way to get fired is to be nonresponsive.

One of the first things I drill into the heads of the attorneys who hire me is the response standard their clients expect.  This standard is not only common courtesy, in difficult times it serves as a harbinger of practice integrity.

In the offices of my clients they adhere to these two communications policies:

  • All phone calls are returned within 90 minutes
  • We respond to all email within 24 hours

 

I work with law firms that bill over $1 million annually and somehow manage to adhere to this standard. I also work with solo attorneys who bill in excess of $750,000 per year and follow this policy to the letter. 

There is no reason for not doing this.

Yes, I know you sometimes go to court and there are days when you are in client meetings and you can’t get to your calls for more than 90 minutes.  That is where a good administrative assistant comes into the picture.

Here’s how the system works when you are away from your phone for more than 90 minutes at a time:

On your outgoing voicemail message let callers know that your assistant is picking up your messages while you are in court.  Ask the caller to leave only his name and phone number. Your assistant must check messages every hour and call back each client and schedule a return call with them for you.  She should put it right on your calendar.

The client feels good and you remain in control of your time.

This system works if you give it a chance. 

If you think it can’t work for you, call me and I’ll help you work through it.

Dave Lorenzo 888.692.5531