The most valuable skill in a lawyer’s tool chest

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You may not be the best writer or speaker. Your trial skills may not win any awards (or big verdicts). You might be just okay at managing your team or your money. But you can be amazingly successful in your practice if you master this skill.

Actually, it is a set of skills, usually referred to as “client relations”. Which encompasses a lot of things, big and small, but boils down to the ability to make people like you.

Think about it, a prospective client comes to see you. They have a problem. They’re nervous about their case and nervous about you. Can you help them? Are you honest? Will you charge a reasonable fee? Will you be nice and friendly or mean and scary?

All these doubts and fears swirling in their head, making them even more nervous as they open up and tell you about their situation.

Within minutes, they feel better. Relieved. Encouraged. They like you. And trust you. And feel confident that you can help them.

And they hire you on the spot.

Or they don’t. Because you don’t have this skill. In which case, all of your core legal skills, experience, and reputation don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Once the client hires you, they see that you are attentive and work hard to serve them. They see that you appreciate them. They come back to you. And tell others about you.

Or they don’t. Because you didn’t continue to earn their trust or make them feel appreciated.

We’re in the people business and client relations is a set of skills that can make or break your practice. Like any skills, they can be learned.

You can learn how to make people like and trust you. You can learn how to inspire loyalty. And if you’re already good at these things, you can learn to get better.

And you should. Because if you want to build a successful practice, no other skills are as valuable.

Learn how to make people like and trust you

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Satisfied clients are a dime a dozen

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Do you have satisfied clients? That’s a shame. You could do so much better.

You don’t want clients to be merely satisfied. You want them to have a big smile on their face and be excited (or relieved) they found you. You want them enthusiastically singing your praises to anyone who will listen.

You don’t want satisfied clients. You want fans.

A satisfied client will recommend you to friends and neighbors if they are asked for a recommendation. A fan will go out of their way to talk you up and pass out your cards.

In building your practice, one of your primary objectives should be to make your clients fall in love with you and your firm. One way to do this is to surprise and delight them by giving them more value and service than they expect.

Clients expect competent work, good customer service, and reasonable fees. If this is what you deliver, you’re probably not getting as many referrals as you could.

We just had some minor repairs done on the exterior of our house. Cracks patched, trim painted, a new side door, and so on. Although I know we got a good deal on the work, I couldn’t believe how much we had to spend for “minor” repairs.

When the job was done, the workers showed us some “extras” they had done at no additional charge, things we had originally passed on because they weren’t absolutely necessary and because we were already spending more than we had intended.

The dollar value of these extras couldn’t have been more than a few hundred dollars, but the gesture made a huge impression on us.

We got more than we expected. We felt better about how much we had spent and we were eager to tell others about the company.

Sure enough, as we were taking another look at the work, our neighbor from across the street came over. He said he needed to get his house painted and wanted to know if we were happy with this company’s work.

What do you think we said?

We said they did a GREAT job and we would DEFINITELY recommend them.

He asked for the contractor’s card.

We would no doubt have recommended them without the extra “surprises” they provided. But we went a step further and “sold” our neighbor on “our guy”.

If anyone else asks us for a recommendation, we’ll recommend them. But we’ll do more than that. When we hear that someone needs work on their house, we won’t wait for them to ask if we know anyone, we’ll make sure to tell them about our guy.

That’s the difference between a satisfied client and a fan.

Now, here’s what I want to know. I want to know if the contractor instructs his employees to “find” extras that need doing and do them, gratis. Is this his standard policy, because he knows the value of giving clients more than they expect?

If it is, that might explain why our guy has hundreds of five-star reviews and his competitors have so few.

Here’s how attorneys can get more five-star reviews and more referrals

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Some clients are more valuable than others

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Have you ever considered starting a loyalty program for your practice? That’s where you reward certain clients with a discount, a free service, or some other benefit, to thank them for their loyalty and to give them an incentive to continue.

This won’t work for every practice area. But you could use it for PI, real estate closings, and for many business matters. Don’t immigration lawyers offer a “family discount”? Don’t estate planners offer a better deal on A/B trusts?

But you have to be careful. You don’t want to position yourself as a “discount lawyer” or be seen promoting a “frequent suer club,” after all.

One way to handle this is to only tell clients after the fact. At the end of a case or matter, tell the client about your policy so they know if they hire you again, (perhaps within the next six or 12 months), they’ll get some kind of a benefit. Or, wait until they come back with a second matter and tell them then.

You can also surprise them when you send your bill. The client expects to pay $3000 and gets a bill for $2500, for example, with a footnote or a handwritten note in the margin explaining why.

The point is that some clients have more business to give you and it makes sense to court them. A loyalty program is one way to do that.

How to use your invoice as a marketing tool

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A simple way to improve your marketing

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Marketing has been defined as “everything you do to get and keep good clients”. Or something like that. They operative word is “everything”.

Everything you say, everything you do, but also everything you don’t say or do.

When you speak to a client on the phone, even if all you’re doing is talking about their case, that’s marketing because when the call is done, you will leave them with an impression of you. That impression will either be favorable or unfavorable. It either increases trust and likeability or it does not.

If that impression is neutral–no change from their previous impression–it has to be considered negative because it was a missed opportunity to enhance their previous impression.

I’m not suggesting that you manically parse every word and overthink every deed. But it does make sense to think about what you say and how you say it.

One way to get better at building trust and likeability in your client conversations is to use a checklist or script. They will help you to remember what to say and give you the ability to polish your delivery.

Examples? How about a checklist for answering FAQs, especially with new clients? No doubt your clients will be impressed with the clarity and completeness of your answers.

How about a checklist for small talk–asking about family or work? Each time you use it with a client, take notes and put them in their file so you will remember to ask follow-up questions the next time you speak.

You might consider a script for delivering bad news, convincing the client to “take the offer,” or explaining “what happens next”.

Much of the value of these documents comes from the process of creating them. Writing them forces you to think about what’s important to your clients, what you want them to know, and how you want to be perceived.

To get started, over the next week or so, write some notes to yourself after each conversation. What did you do well? What could you improve? What did you leave out?

Remember, to your clients, you are more than the sum of your legal knowledge and abilities. You are the person who makes them feel more confident about their future.

Marketing legal services starts with a plan

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Change is exciting, unless it isn’t

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New ideas. New methods. New technology. It all sounds good, doesn’t it? We want our law practice to be on the cutting edge of change, leading the charge in the face of a changing world.

The problem is our clients don’t. They don’t necessarily want their lawyer to change what they do or how they do it because change is scary.

Every time you bring something new into the mix, something your clients see as deviating from tradition, they wonder “What else might change?” or “What was wrong with the old way?” and they get nervous.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t keep up with times. You should. You must. But you don’t need to be an early adopter of everything that comes down the pike, nor do you need to fix things that aren’t broken.

Like everything, you have to find the balance between modern and old fashioned. Enough, but not too much. Or too fast.

When you make a change, don’t do it abruptly or indiscriminately. Changes should be thought out, measured, and introduced smoothly.

Don’t avoid change. Don’t be the proverbial dinosaur. You don’t have to hang onto your aol email address because you’ve had it since the beginning of time. Actually, that would be one change you should make because “never changing” can be just as frightening to clients.

Change for change’s sake isn’t a virtue. If you find ways to deliver your services faster, cheaper, or better, you should do it. But do it cautiously and explain to your clients what you are doing and why.

Whether you’re introducing a new practice area, unveiling a new website, or moving to a new office, understand that while you may be excited about these changes, your clients might need a little hand holding.

Because change is exciting, unless it isn’t.

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In praise of boring lawyers

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If you’re a bit reserved and boring, you are exactly what most clients want in their attorney.

They don’t want their attorney to be flamboyant or silly. They aren’t looking for you to be charming and colorful. They’re not looking for a buddy, they want their attorney to be the adult.

So if you’re somewhat introverted, quiet, or lacking in personality, that’s okay. In a tumultuous, frightening world, being calm, cool, and collected is a tremendous asset in an attorney.

Clients want to know that you’ll take care of things. Help them get through the ordeal. Make sure that the paperwork is right, the details are under control, and you’re ready for anything. If they see this in you, you’ve got the job.

Because more than anything, clients want their attorney to make them feel safe.

If you’re boring, own your boringness. Don’t fight it. Don’t try to be something you’re not.

Calm, cool, and collected, but when called into action, ready to get the job done.

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The client from heck

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We’ve all had them. Clients who blame you for things that aren’t your fault. They make a fuss over silly stuff and ignore all the good you do for them. They’re usually not bad enough to tell them to take a walk, they’re just incredibly annoying.

I was thinking about this while browsing through the app store this morning. I was looking at the reviews for an app I had purchased and love, smiling at all the five-star reviews, reading comments from users pointing out their favorite features and use cases. “This has changed my life,” “Worth every penny,” “Best app on my phone.”

A bit of mindless distraction while I waited for the coffee to kick in.

And then I saw a two-star review. The reviewer complained about a feature that didn’t work for him. He said the app was, “not ready for prime time”.

Tens of thousands of people have no problem with that feature. Hundreds of five-star reviews. But no, he’s right and everyone else is wrong.

Did he stop to think that maybe he was doing something wrong? Did he contact support and ask for help?

Nah, Mr. “I’m right” didn’t do that. He just posted his “review”.

What’s up with people? Why do they never consider that THEY are the problem?

I don’t know. I just know that people like this exist and they buy apps and hire lawyers.

What do you do about clients who are like this? Usually, you grin and bear it. Business is business and paying clients get the benefit of the doubt, even when they’re clearly a doofus. If they get bad enough, you ask them to find another lawyer; otherwise, you deal with it.

Or you do like I often did: turn them over to an employee who is “nicer” than you and let them deal with them.

It’s good to be King.

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The number one thing your clients want to know

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If you handle consumer or small business matters, it’s a safe bet that most of your clients are nervous when they come to see you. They’re apprehensive about the outcome of their case or matter, concerned about how much time it will take, and worried about the cost.

You need to be honest with them, but that doesn’t mean you need to be blunt. If you’re smart, your words and body language will tell them that they shouldn’t worry, that everything will be okay.

Because that’s what they want to hear.

Instead of saying, “X [bad thing] will probably happen,” you might say, “X [bad thing] might happen”.

I went to the doctor the other day for a minor issue. At the end of the appointment, I said, “Do I need to see you again?” The doctor said, “Not unless X [a mildly bad thing] happens.”

That sounded good. I was encouraged. I took it mean that while “it” might happen, it wasn’t likely.

Yay.

The next day, my wife called the doctor’s office to ask a question. She spoke to the nurse who answered the question and then said, “He’ll probably need to come back.”

Nobody wants to hear that, even if it’s true. Tell me it might happen, okay. Tell me it probably will happen and instead of focusing on getting better, I’m imagining the worst.

Bedside manner is an important part of a patient’s recovery. Doctors need to be hopeful and positive, because the patient wants to know that, “everything is going to be okay.” Even if the patient is terminal, there’s always hope.

Lawyers are in the same boat. Instead of telling the client that the insurance company will probably force the case to trial, why not say, “If we can’t settle this and have to go to trial. . .”?

Because your clients want to know that everything is going to be okay.

Get more referrals from other lawyers and other professionals. Here’s how

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Why clients don’t follow advice (and what to do about it)

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Ever wonder why clients pay good money for your advice and then don’t follow it? Yeah, me too. It’s one of the mysteries of life.

But you shouldn’t lose sleep over it. You did your job. It’s not your fault if they don’t listen.

Or is it?

Did you do everything you could to convince them to do what you told them to do? Did you explain everything as thoroughly and completely as possible? Was there anything else you could have said or done?

You should use checklists and form letters so that nothing is left unsaid or undone. Ask them to sign off on your instructions. Tell them horror stories about clients who didn’t listen. Look them in the eye and ask them to pinky swear that they will follow your advice.

Do these things because you have an ethical duty to do them. Because if they don’t follow your advice and things go south, they may blame you. And because it will help you grow your practice.

You’re not going to get repeat business or referrals from a client who goes out of business, even when it’s not your fault.

Protect your little darlings. Keep them safe and help them prosper. Make sure they are happy and well fed and remember that what’s good for them is good for you.

Now, will you follow my advice? Pinky swear?

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Fixing the bugs in your law practice

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The odds are you’re doing the big things right. You do good work, you avoid major mistakes, you deliver on your promises, and you keep your clients happy.

I know this because if you didn’t, you would soon be out of business.

But it’s the little things that make a difference. Little errors in judgment that compound and corrode your relationships. Little extras you do for your clients that differentiate you from the rest of lawyerdom.

These little things can make or break your practice. Things like how often you communicate with your clients. The attention you give them when they are on the phone or in the office. The way you show them you care about them as people, not just check-writing entities.

It’s all about the details.

Isn’t that true in any relationship? It’s not whether or not you remembered your wedding anniversary, it’s about what you write on the card.

If you want long-term success in your career, you need to attend to the little things. You need to consciously look for opportunities to strengthen relationships and deliver more value to your clients.

You also need to be aware of little things you’re not doing, or doing poorly, and when you find a bug in your system, you have to squash it.

Unlike apps, however, your clients are unlikely to report these bugs to you. They’re not going to tell you that you don’t seem to care enough or don’t communicate often enough, you have to figure this out for yourself.

How do you do that? How do you get better at spotting mistakes and opportunities?

You can read books and take courses, you can observe what other lawyers do and don’t do, you can hire a coach or consultant, but while those things can help, nothing will help as much as a sincere desire to serve others.

With that desire as a foundation, you will naturally and effortlessly do the little things, not out of obligation or a fear of loss but because of the joy you feel in doing them.

Your clients can and will send you more referrals

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