Why some clients think their attorney is a cold bastard

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Listening is one of the most important skills for an attorney. Too often, an attorney will hear what the client or other person said, decide they understand their point, and immediately start formulating their response.

They may be right in their assessment, but one of the most important parts of listening is showing the other person you are.

When a client thinks you’re not listening, they think you don’t care about them or their case, or you’re not good at your job. Either way, they think less of you.

Effective listening isn’t passive listening, however. Just being quiet isn’t enough. The client needs to know that you not only hear them, you understand them.

A few Do’s and Don’ts.

  • DON’T do other things during the conversation (other than taking notes). If you can’t give the other person your undivided attention, because you’re late for a meeting, for example, explain this and re-schedule.
  • DO make eye contact. Nothing says “I don’t care about you” more than avoiding the other person’s gaze. (I’ve seen professionals do this more than once; it’s unnerving).
  • Ask questions, to clarify and amplify what happened, what they think about it, and what they want.
  • Acknowledge and validate their feelings, based on what they say and how they appear. “I can see you’re frustrated/angry. . .”, “I can see why that would be a problem. . .” , “I’d feel the same way if I were in your shoes”.
  • Repeat it back to them. A great way to clarify what they’re saying is to repeat it. “What you’re saying is. . . right?” “Let me make sure I understand what happened. . .”, “So you want your investment back and a public apology, right?”
  • “Is there anything else?” Don’t assume they’ve told you everything. Continue to prompt them to tell you more, until there’s nothing left to tell.

Yeah, I know, some of this is just good lawyering skills, but it doesn’t hurt to have a refresher.

It also doesn’t hurt to hear how you sound from the client’s perspective, so record the conversation and play it back, latter, over a stiff drink.

If you have the client’s permission, play the recording for someone you trust to give you an honest assessment of your listening skills.

Something else:

It’s also important to show people you’re listening when you reply to their email, letter, or text. But that’s a subject for another day.

Good client relations leads to repeat business and referrals

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Are you essential?

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There are two kinds of attorneys in the world. The first is transactional. A client pays a fee for his or her services, with the hope and expectation of getting a positive outcome.

The attorney may be good at what they do. They may even be great. Their clients may depend on them, trust them, and continually look to them for help, but this doesn’t mean they are essential.

Because they can be replaced.

The second kind of attorney is, relatively speaking, irreplaceable. Their clients depend on them not just for their legal work but for everything else they do for them.

What do I mean? I mean for the things they do that go beyond their core legal services.

A business client may depend on his attorney for introductions, recommendations, and referrals. The client may look to the attorney for information about their industry or market, or depend on the attorney’s wisdom and guidance in building their company.

A consumer client may depend on their attorney for referrals to other professionals and businesses they can trust. They may look to their attorney for guidance on refinancing their home, managing their investments, improving their credit, or protecting their identity.

Today, more than ever, your clients want more from you. They want to see your steadiness and hear your reassurances. They want to see that you are calm, cool, and collected, in a world that is anything but.

When they’re upset or confused, they need to hear your voice or read something you wrote, telling them that everything is going to be okay.

They might not need your legal services for a long time, but they need to know that you will be there when they do, and that they have your friendship and support and can turn to you at any time for just about anything.

When your clients know they can count on you to help them, advise them, support them, and even comfort them, in ways that other attorneys can’t (or don’t), that’s when you become essential.

For ideas on how to help your clients beyond your core legal services, go here

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What to say to a client who asks for a free service

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It happens to every attorney. Clients ask for a lower fee or a free service. It’s not a big deal but how you handle it might be. Here are some of my thoughts.

First, the best way to handle this is to avoid it in the first place. Create a clear statement of your fee and billing policies and give a copy to every new client.

Second, when someone (inevitably) asks, be nice about it. Don’t embarrass them, tell them you understand why they’re asking, you’re sympathetic to their situation, you’d like to accommodate them, and you’ll see if you can work something out.

No matter what you say after that, they’ll see that you respect them and considered their request.

Third, focus on value, not cost. Make sure the client understands the value of what you do and, ideally, that it is worth more to them than what they pay.

Show them what might happen if they didn’t hire you, and why they get more value than they would get from other attorneys.

Fifth, don’t make it about you. Frame your response in terms of “the firm” or “our practice,” instead of you. Use phrases like, “the value of our services” (even if you’re a sole practitioner), and say “we” instead of “I”.

Even better, frame it in terms of the client. “The value you get,” or speak broadly–“Our clients tell us they appreciate. . .”.

Sixth, be firm but flexible. Providing discounts and free services tends to devalue what you do, so don’t do it as a matter of course. Instead, suggest a smaller engagement or offer to defer some of their bill.

If you want to give a client a break, make it clear that you’re making an exception and tell them why you’re doing it, e.g, they’ve been with you a long time or you realize they’re going through a tough time.

For more on fees and billing, get my book, “Get the Check“.

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It’s easier to keep your clients happy than to get new ones

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We hired a new gardener recently because our previous one didn’t show up, or call, or text. He’s missed days before, but always let us know, so we figured he’d flaked out and moved on to greener pastures.

Turns out he hadn’t.

We got a text from him yesterday, asking why we removed him from our gated community’s guest list. “Is there a problem? Did I do something wrong?”

We filled him in. He got angry. But didn’t explain why he didn’t show up, contact us, or respond to our numerous texts.

So, he lost our account, and the tree-trimming gig he was booked to do later this month. We know he needs the money because he continually nickled-and-dimed us about everything, and because he mentioned needing the money in his last text.

We have needs, too. We need to know that our yard is being taken care of by someone we can count on.

Maybe he’ll learn a lesson from this. Maybe he’ll realize how important it is to take care of your customers, and that it’s easier to do that than to find new ones.

Hey, I hear a lawnmower outside. Guess out new gardener is here. Right on time. Just like he promised.

Marketing is everything you do to get and keep good clients

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Keeping clients

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My wife called to cancel a service we no longer need. After a few questions, the girl who answered the phone turned the call over to her manager.

He asked more questions. Were we unhappy with the service, did the rep do something wrong, is there anything the company could do to get us to stay, how about a free month of service?

Normal questions.

When we didn’t bite, the manager played the guilt card. He pointed out that the rep would suffer financially from our departure.

If that’s part of the script, they need a new script. Even if that strategy works, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

I’m guessing they’re getting a lot of cancellations right now and they’re feeling the pinch.

Anyway, the experience reminded me to remind you that having a retention strategy in place is important for lawyers.

When a client calls to tell you they’re leaving or they’re unhappy with something or they want you to stop working on their case, you should be prepared to ask questions, put out fires, and keep them on board.

And be prepared to work things out with them when they say (or it appears) they can’t afford to continue.

Think it through, write it out, spitball it with your team, and make sure everyone is trained on what to say and do.

Because it’s going to happen.

But, here’s the thing. There’s only so much you can say or do and only so many clients will stay.

That’s life.

What you can do is prepare their exit for their eventual return and for referrals.

Tell them you understand, accommodate their needs, apologize if appropriate, tell them they’re welcome back if their situation changes, and wish them well.

And whatever you do, don’t play the guilt card.

How to get former clients to send you referrals

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I don’t like your attitude, bub

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My wife and I went out for a ride yesterday. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed getting out of the house. We drove towards the beach and went to a grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner.

Outside the store was a young lady wearing a mask and offering to disinfect shopper’s carts. She greeted us warmly. On our way out of the store, she told us to have a nice afternoon.

On our way home, we remembered something we needed and stopped at another grocery store.

My wife stayed in the car while I walked up to the store. In front was an older man with a similar disinfectant set-up as the first store.

But this guy wasn’t friendly. He didn’t greet me.

As I walked up to the store, he said, “Do you have a mask? You can’t come in here without a mask.”

I had a mask in my pocket. I brought it with me just in case we went someplace that required it.

Like this store.

I could have put on the mask but I didn’t. There was something about the way this guy said what he said that rankled me. He was scolding me and I didn’t like it.

I didn’t complain, I simply turned around and walked back to my car.

The store lost my business yesterday.

Anyway, this isn’t about whether or not your establishment has a mask policy.

It’s about the subtle messages you send to your customers or clients that may push them away from you when you should be doing just the opposite.

It’s about lightening up a bit, and going out of your way to brighten their day, especially now when everyone seems to be on edge.

They say people make up their minds about you within 4 seconds of meeting you. Given my experience yesterday, I’d say that’s about right.

When you’re ready for your practice to take a quantum leap

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The best marketing you can do right now

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Phones quiet? Not a lot of work coming in? Courts closed?

Now would be a good time to do some marketing.

But what?

The same kind of marketing I nag you about all the time, only now you have time to do it on a bigger scale.

It’s one of the simplest and most effective kind of marketing a lawyer can do.

Get on the blower and blow.

Call your clients (and former clients) to say hello, wish them well, and ask if there’s anything you can do for them.

Works well during good times. Should work like gangbusters now when people are concerned about the future and not too busy to take your call.

Don’t expect to get any work when you call, but don’t be surprised if it does.

Right now, you may learn what your clients want to know so you can get the answers for them and share those answers with your other clients and in your newsletter.

If someone need help with something you don’t do, you can refer them to someone who does, earning Brownie points with the client and the professional or business owner to whom you refer them.

Mostly, you’ll strengthen your relationship with the people who once put bread on your table and who will again.

They’ll appreciate you and remember that you thought about them, and while others wrote to them and wished them well, you were the one who made a personal call.

Mark my words, when things get back to normal and they need legal help or know someone who does, they’ll be calling you.

So, how many clients will you call this week?

How to use a newsletter to build your practice

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Converting clients to advocates

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You want your clients to send you referrals, promote your events, share your content, provide positive reviews, and otherwise help you expand your reach and grow your practice.

You deliver good results and treat your clients with respect, and because you do, some of your clients will advocate on your behalf simply because they like you and want to help you and the people they know.

If you want more clients to do that, however, and do it more often, make it easier for them to do it.

One thing you can do is provide them with tools (hash tags, review templates, sample language for social media posts, emails they can forward to friends, etc.) so they can share their experiences with you.

Another thing you can do is make it easier for them to recognize your ideal client by providing them with a description.

Teach them what a good referral looks like, what they should tell them about you, and the best way to make the referral.

The more you inform and equip your clients to advocate for you, the more likely it is that they will do that.

How to equip your clients to send you more referrals

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Choosing the right clients

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When I was ten years old I went to summer camp for two weeks. Sleeping in cabins, swimming and fishing in the lake, archery practice, softball, campfire songs.

I loved every minute of it.

Our counselor was cool. He didn’t talk down to us or boss us around. He was like an older brother and we could talk to him about anything.

I had so much fun I went back the next year.

But the second year was different.

Same woods and lake, same games and activities, different counselor. And I didn’t get along with him at all.

The details aren’t important. What’s important is that as much as I loved my first year at camp, that’s how much I hated my second year.

Because of the counselor.

The people in our lives make a difference.

If you know people you don’t like, don’t associate with them. Spend time with people who make you feel good.

That includes your clients.

Spend time with clients who appreciate you and support you. Clients you like to be around.

Those clients tend to know people like themselves and can refer them to you. You’ll probably like them, too.

You can’t choose your camp counselor but you can choose your clients. And you should.

How to get more referrals from your clients

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Sorry, I hired another lawyer

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I’m sorry. I hired another lawyer. You probably want to know why.

It wasn’t because of your services. You’re a good lawyer and I had no complaints about the work you did for me.

It wasn’t poor “customer service”. You always kept me informed about my case, answered my questions, and made me feel appreciated.

It wasn’t fees. I thought your fees were reasonable and I had no issues with your billing practices.

It wasn’t personal. I liked you and got along fine with your staff.

So, why did I hire another lawyer?

Because I had a different legal matter and didn’t realize you could help me with it. You didn’t tell me about your other practice areas, or if you did, it was a long time ago and I forgot.

I asked a friend if he knew any attorneys who practiced in this area and got a referral.

Why didn’t I call you to find out if you could help me or ask you for a referral?

Honestly, it never occurred to me.

I haven’t heard from you since you finished my case a couple of years ago and you know what they say, “out of sight, out of mind”.

I wish you had told me about the other matters you handled. I wish you had stayed in touch. I’ve referred several clients to my new lawyer but I would have sent them to you.

An email newsletter is an easy way to stay in touch with clients and prospects

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