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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It’s cheaper to keep a client than to find a new one

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Before you invest another dollar or another minute looking for new clients, do yourself a favor and invest in retaining the ones you already have.

It’s cheaper.

They already know you and trust you. They already know what you do and they’ve seen you do it. You don’t have to go looking for them and woo them. You don’t have to do much to get them to hire you again.

Make sense?

So how do you retain clients? For starters, make sure you don’t chase them away.

A recent survey revealed that 23% of “customer complaints” are about rudeness or bad attitude. Hey, that’s an easy one to fix. Be nice, and if you’re already nice, find ways to be nicer.

Next on the list: don’t ignore them. Clients may run away from a rude lawyer, but most clients drift away from the lawyer who doesn’t pay attention to them.

If you ignore your clients, they may forget your name or the reasons they hired you and be easily seduced by the next lawyer who comes along.

That’s also easy to fix. Stay in touch with your clients.

What’s that? You’ve already done the work for them and they are unlikely to need your services again?

Silly boy. Have you forgotten about the referrals they could send you? Have you forgotten that those referrals are  easier to sign up than prospects who hear about you through an ad or online search?

Are you forgetting that if they refer you a client with a legal matter you don’t handle, you can refer them to another lawyer and earn their referrals in return?

Are you ignoring the other ways clients can help you like sending traffic to your website or telling their friends about your free report?

You worked hard to attract prospective clients. Once they hire you, you don’t have to do nearly as much (or spend nearly as much) to retain them.

Is there more to client retention than this? Sure. There are affirmative things you can do to strengthen your relationships and make your clients an advocate for your practice.

But let’s start with being nice and staying in touch.

Your clients want to send you referrals. Here’s how to help them do it

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Are you yelp-proofing your practice?

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The other day our washing machine decided it needed to go on vacation and stopped working. My wife called the service company we’ve used in the past and booked an appointment. They were due to come out today between 8 and 11.

My wife has a busy day today and called to see where we were in the queue. Yep, you guessed it, they had no record of the appointment.

It seems that their computer also needed a vacation and lost a bunch of bookings. They had no way of knowing who to call so it was a good thing my wife decided to call them. (They’ll be here later today).

What about the customers who don’t call to confirm? When the repair person is a no show do you think some of them might call another service? And then rip into them on review sites?

Yeah, I do too.

The company needs a fail-safe mechanism to minimize the risk of this happening again. How about something simple like instructing the person who answers the phone to write down the name and phone number of every caller, on paper, before entering the info into the computer?

Problem. Solved.

If I owned the company, not only would I implement this, I would make a point of dramatizing it in my marketing. In our ads, on our website, on the phone, I would explain that since computers have glitches and the Internet sometimes goes down, we use “double entry” appointments to protect our customers. Or something like that.

This may seem like a small point but marketing is about small points. Showing the world how you are different and better than the other guys by dramatizing the little things you do to give your customers a better experience.

I’m guessing this company won’t do any of this. They won’t apologize or offer us a discount or a freebie to make amends. But if they did, they would go a long way towards strengthening relationships with the people who not only pay their bills but who can recommend them to their friends.

Client referrals start with good client relations

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Who fills out the paperwork in your office?

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In my practice, when I had a new client in the office I didn’t have them fill out any forms or paperwork in the waiting room and I didn’t have my staff do the initial intake–I filled out the paperwork myself.

One reason was that I wanted to talk to them about their case, get all the details, and ask follow-up questions my staff might not ask. I was able to do a better job for them as a result.

Another reason was that I didn’t want them fussing with paperwork when what they really wanted was to unburden their troubles on me and let me fix them. I thought they appreciated my making it easier for them to do that.

I could have had someone else do the initial information gathering before I saw them, and if I was pressed for time I sometimes did that. But I preferred to fill out the forms myself because it gave me an opportunity to spend a few more minutes with the client and get to know them.

I could ask about their kids, their job or business, and where they were going on vacation. I might tell them about a case I had that was similar to theirs. I could have some fun with them and lighten their load.

I often saw my clients only two times: at the first appointment and at the final appointment when I presented a settlement check and final paperwork. Those two visits were an opportunity to bond with them and I didn’t want anything to take away from that.

When clients like you, and think you like them, they come back to you and refer their friends.

So who fills out the paperwork in your office? You? The client? Staff? Do you send them a form to fill out before they come in for their first appointment? Or do you use a combination of the above?

Every practice is different, of course, so I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. I’ve told you what I did, and why, but you need to decide what’s best for your practice.

What I can tell you is that while this may be a “little thing,” you should spend time thinking about it because when it comes to building relationships, and building a successful practice, little things mean a lot.

Do it right and your clients will send you more referrals

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ROFLMAO: Can attorneys use humor to build their practice?

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When was the last time you laughed so hard your belly ached?

When I asked myself that question I immediately thought about Seinfeld. It made me laugh then, and it still makes me laugh today.

Seinfeld masterfully touched on human foibles while avoiding the politically correct and overtly sexual themes we see today. Nobody got hit in the nether region. Nobody got political or lampooned traditional values. Nobody said or did anything that made you want to cover your kid’s ears.

Instead, we had bits about parking in New York, tanning beds, postal workers, and a library cop.

I still laugh whenever I think about Elaine, who couldn’t believe something Kramer was telling her, saying “Get out!” and giving him a shove that sent him backwards through the open door. Or Kramer buying the set from The Merv Griffin Show and conducting his own talk show in his apartment, complete with guests, bumper music, and commercial breaks.

If you were a fan, no doubt your remember your favorite bits: Soup Nazi. Festivus. Shrinkage. How about Elaine dancing? Or any dinner with the Costanzas?

Maybe you weren’t a fan of the show, or never saw it. I’m sure you have TV shows that make you laugh. You can use these to forge a stronger bond with clients and prospects who share your appreciation for those programs.

I know a criminal defense lawyer who has a stand-up comedy act, and while he doesn’t tell jokes in the courtroom or the office, he uses humor to connect with his clients and contacts. We can all do that to some extent.

Did you smile when I recalled a few of my favorite Seinfeld bits? If you did, perhaps you felt a little more connected to me as you recognized something we have in common.

Many lawyers don’t have much of a sense of humor, however. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. (See what I did there?) But while not every lawyer can BE funny, every lawyer can share things that are funny.

So what am I saying? I’m saying you don’t have to avoid humor just because you’re a professional. You can and should use it, judiciously, to connect with people.

Go ahead and share that funny cat video on social media. When you speak with a client, ask her if she watches a certain show, and if she does, mention a character or situation that makes you laugh.

I know, this is more difficult today. When a family friendly program like “Full House” gets rebooted and uses sexual situations and political slights, you know we’re not in Kansas anymore. So be careful.

Make sure everything you reference is “appropriate for all audiences”. You don’t want to mention something that makes your clients think less of you just because you admitted watching it.

Keep the raunchy shows and the politically oriented shows to yourself, and find something everyone can enjoy.

If you can’t find anything suitable for prime time, you can always mention a show about nothing.

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