Clients, not cases


There’s a singer I like and I watch a lot of reaction videos of her. On one video, a reactor who is his himself a singer, instantly fell in love with her and not just because of her voice and performance. 

Among other traits, her humility impressed him. Even though she did her own version of a classic song, she showed respect for the original and the person who sang it.

“It’s not about her,” he said. “It’s about the song.” 

Which made me think about the practice of law. Most lawyers see a new client in terms of the legal work—the case, the problem, the risks, and the solution. They focus on the work. Instead, they should focus on the client.

Of course, the work is important. But the client is more important. They are a person (or an entity composed of people) who need us to comfort them and guide them, to make them feel good about what we’re doing for them, and thus, good about themselves.

We can build a relationship with the client, which allows us to do a better job for them. And the client may have other work for us, either now or in the future, and a lifetime of business or personal contacts they can introduce to us, and will because of that relationship.

Think clients, not cases.


This is not true. Especially for attorneys.


A question was asked on social about “unknown truths” everyone should know. An “expert” supplied several examples, including this one: 

“People don’t care about your hard work. They just care about the end result.” 

But that’s not always true.

If an attorney settles a case for a client for $300,000 and bills the client $10,000, the client may be thrilled if they were expecting to pay a lot more. But what if the attorney tells the client it only took him ten minutes to get that settlement? (Because he’s smart, experienced, had inside information, plays golf with opposing counsel…) 

Is the client just as happy? 

Maybe. Maybe not. 

The client got a great outcome but might have a problem being charged the equivalent of $60,000 an hour. 

Because most clients equate value with effort.

They might care mostly about the end result but they want to see that you worked hard for them, argued for them, put in a lot of time, prepared a lot of documents, nearly got eaten before you slayed the dragon, and otherwise “earned” your fee. 

They don’t want to hear that you made one phone call. 

It’s like going to a movie. You may like the happy ending but you like it more because there was a lot of conflict leading up to it.  

Am I saying that practicing law is like making movies? 

Yes, actually, I am. Both have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And both involve an emotional journey. 

You want your clients to enjoy the movie. So, figure out a way to take them on an emotional journey. 

You might explain everything that could have gone wrong, even though it didn’t. You might talk to them about the many things you’ve done in the past that contributed to your ability to settle their case so quickly. 

My vote? Don’t tell them you settled so quickly.

You’re the hero of the movie. Don’t spoil it for them.


Why didn’t they hire me?


When a client doesn’t sign up, you need to find out why. Because it might not be too late to get them to change their mind, and because you need to know if there’s something you need to fix for the next client. 

Was it something you said or did? Something you didn’t say or do? Did a competitor offer something better? 

Clients say “no” for a variety of reasons: 

  • They didn’t believe or trust you
  • Your presentation or initial meeting was lacking or a competitor’s was better
  • They think you charge too much (and didn’t think it was worth it)
  • They think you charge too little (and it made them question your experience or ability)
  • You don’t have (enough) good testimonials or reviews to suit them
  • The competition has a bigger staff or a better website; the client thought they were more successful or experienced and a safer choice 
  • It might be the services you offer (or don’t) and how they you describe them.

And while it might be something external, e.g., they hired a lawyer they already knew or were referred to, you should assume there’s something you can improve.  

How do you know? 

  1. Ask them. They may not be able to (or want to) tell you precisely why they didn’t sign up with you, but they might give you some clues.
  2. Ask someone who knows them what they want or need and what might turn them off.
  3. Ask someone who knows you for feedback about you and your practice.
  4. Ask someone to sit in on your next client meeting and tell you what they see that could be improved.

 There are always things you can improve: 

  • Your presentation or “pitch”. Is it persuasive? Believable? Does it touch on the right points and make the client feel like they are in good hands? Could you improve the opening or closing? Is it too short or too long, too much about you and not enough about the client?
  • Your website and marketing documents. Are they consistent with the image and professionalism the client wants and expects? Are they thorough? Persuasive? Do they inspire confidence?
  • How are clients greeted by you and your staff? How long are they are kept waiting? Are you and your staff friendly and genuine? Do you smile, make eye contact, shake hands, offer them a beverage? 
  • How do you describe your services? Do you explain the benefits or just the features? Do you explain enough or assume they already know? 
  • Do you have enough testimonials? Positive reviews? Bona Fides?
  • What do you send to prospective clients before the first meeting? How is your follow-up after the appointment? 
  • And much more

    Anything, large or small, could be the reason a client doesn’t hire you. Keep your eyes and ears open. And when you find something that could be improved, improve it.   

    You might be just one or two adjustments away from a significant increase in sign ups. 

    Because clients are people and people are weird. 


    How to deal with an unhappy client


    Your client is upset. Angry, frustrated, accusing you of (something). What should you do? 

    Well, was it your fault? Did you mess up? Fail to tell them something? Charge more than they expected? 

    If it was your fault, let them vent, tell you how they feel and what it will cost them, and what they want you to do. 

    Hear them out. Don’t rush them. Let them say what they want to say.

    When they’re done, take the blame, explain what happened, apologize, and do whatever it takes to fix the problem.

    The only thing worse than having an unhappy client is having an unhappy client who leaves and tells everyone they know about their dissatisfaction with you. 

    So, fall on your sword and make them happy. 

    The good news is that unhappy clients often become happy, lifelong clients when the attorney apologizes, takes responsibility, and remedies the situation. Maybe they feel guilty for being unreasonable or they’ve simply had time to calm down.

    But what if it wasn’t your fault? What if the client was upset about something in their business or personal life and took it out on you? They had a fight with their spouse, lost a bunch of money in the market or a business deal, or they had a flat tire and got grease on their new suit. 

    What do you do when it’s not your fault? You let them vent and you listen. Show them you care about them. Offer to help. 

    Treat them the way you would want to be treated if your roles were reversed. 

    If you do, if you let them blow off steam and tell you what’s on their mind, the odds are they’ll realize that the problem wasn’t your fault, they’ll appreciate you for listening, and realize that they’re the one who needs to apologize. 

    An unhappy client is an opportunity—to fix the problem if you were at fault or to be a friend if you weren’t.


    You and nobody but you


    You work hard to serve your clients and build your reputation. You want people to see you as the best lawyer for the job.

    Do they? 

    When your clients and contacts need help or advice, do they automatically think of you? When someone they know needs help, do they automatically (and unreservedly) recommend you? 

    It comes down to this:

    Do your clients think of you as their “trusted advisor” or do they not think of you at all unless they have a problem?

    A trusted advisor isn’t merely “available” when their clients need them. The trusted advisor is an integral part of their life. 

    Other lawyers stay in touch with their clients, educate them about the law and how they can help them, and let them know they are available to do that. The trusted advisor actively looks for ways to help their clients and advises them even when those clients aren’t aware they need that advice. 

    Other lawyers refer business to their clients. The trusted advisor does that, but also educates themself about their clients’ industries and markets, problems and goals so they can proactively suggest ideas and opportunities.

    The trusted advisor doesn’t merely stay in touch with their clients, they share with them useful information and strategies they’ve discovered, recommend books and other resources, invite them to relevant events, and introduce them to other professionals they might benefit from knowing. 

    And they do the same thing with their consumer clients.

    They look for ways to deliver value to their clients beyond the scope of their legal needs and wants. 

    Their clients hear from them regularly, talk to them frequently, and know they can rely on them to protect them.  

    And because of that, the trusted advisor doesn’t have to persuade them to choose them or follow their advice, and they don’t need to justify their fees. The client trusts them and wouldn’t think of hiring anyone else. 

    It’s a very satisfying and profitable way to build a law practice. 


    “My secretary made me stop” 


    You may have noticed that I continually preach the value of staying in touch with clients and prospect via a newsletter. No, this is not another reminder to do that. 

    Instead, this is a reminder about the value of staying in touch with clients individually. 

    It’s a simple concept, as old as the hills, and even more powerful than a newsletter. 

    In a nutshell, every week, schedule a few minutes to connect with at least one of your clients or former clients. Call them, not to talk business, but simply to ask how they’re doing and catch up. 

    Ask about their business or family, their hobby or their golf game. Ask about their latest project or cause. 

    No selling or promoting. Just you connecting with people who are important to you. 

    But while you’re not calling to talk about (your) business, a funny thing happens when you call. Clients will tell you about another case or legal issue or question they have or a friend or business contact who does, and you get more business.

    Many lawyers I’ve encouraged to do this have reported amazing results. One lawyer told me he got so much new business, his secretary said she couldn’t handle all the work and told him to stop. 

    For the record, this kind of thing doesn’t happen as much when you email. There’s something magical about the human voice. Especially when it’s your voice, not an assistant’s.

    I’m not saying don’t send email (or regular mail) or stop your newsletter. 

    Just make sure to call. 

    Call your current and former clients, referral sources and business contacts, and (if you want to) even prospects you’ve spoken with. Everyone you know professionally, or want to know. 

    There’s another benefit to doing this besides strengthening relationships and bringing in more new business. It’s an opportunity to learn more about your clients’ industry, business, or market, which will help you do a better job for your clients and better market to their niche. 

    All you need to do this is a calendar and a list. And maybe another secretary or assistant to help you with all the additional work.


    Not so fast


    Your clients generally like when you get the job done quickly. It shows them you have the experience and confidence to do a good job and give them the solution or prize without delay, often at lower cost.

    But if you move too quickly, they may wonder why.  

    Did you overlook anything? Take too many risks? Make mistakes that will come back to haunt them? 

    Did you push them to settle too soon, for less than they could have gotten?

    At the other extreme, if you move too slowly, they may think you don’t know what you’re doing or you’re dragging your feet to bill more hours.

    Too fast, or too slow, and you make clients nervous. 

    It’s the same with prospective clients. 

    After a meeting or presentation, if you follow up too quickly or too often, they may wonder if you need the work. If you take too much time to follow-up, however, they might think you don’t care about their business and won’t give them enough attention. 

    Each case or client is different, of course. Set the pace accordingly. 

    Consider the size and complexity of the case, the emotional aspects of the issues, the number of decision makers, deadliness, and the best practices in their industry or market.

    Talk to the client and find out what’s most important to them. Some will tell you they want the best results, no matter how long it takes or what it costs. Some will want you to prioritize cost. And some will tell you they don’t know and ask what you recommend.

    In that case, think about what you would want if you were the client—and do that. 


    Push or pull? 


    You tell clients what to do and what to avoid, but maybe you’ve noticed—clients don’t always listen. 

    Neither do prospective clients.

    You show them the benefits of hiring a lawyer (and why that should be you), but they often do nothing (or hire someone else). 

    Your clients and prospects might not believe you. They might not have the money or want to spend it. They might think they can do “it” themself. Or they might be busy with other things and not pay attention. 

    How do you get them to do what you recommend?

    Repetition is a good option. If you want them to make an appointment or call you to discuss (something), you send them a series of emails and letters; you have an assistant call them, and then you call them. Or you write articles and blog posts and come at the subject in different ways, over an extended period of time, and eventually they get it.

    But repetition doesn’t always work. Sometimes, you have to scare the hell out of them by telling them the bad things that can happen if they don’t follow your advice.

    Sometimes you give them the facts. Sometimes, you dramatize the facts and get them to feel the heat.  

    You want them to consider the plea deal, so you sit them down and explain the worst-case scenario. 

    You want them to update their documents, but they drag their feet so you tell them what happened to some of your other clients who waited too long or didn’t do it at all. 

    Fear of loss is the most powerful way to motivate someone, and you should use it when necessary.

    Sometimes you push—emphasize the bad things that can happen if they don’t follow your advice, and sometimes you pull—emphasize the benefits if they do. 

    Yes, tell them both. But they want to know what you think, what you would do if you were in their shoes. Don’t be too quick to answer. Walk them through it. And be as gentle or as tough as you need. 


    When do prospective clients decide to hire you?


    By the time most prospective clients meet you or speak to you, they’ve already decided to hire you. Or not.

    They usually know something about you—from your website, your ad or mailing, a review, or a friend who referred them. When they speak to you, their gut tells them yes or no.  

    You can give them more information about yourself, about their case and what you can do to help them. But they’ve usually already decided. They use the information you give them to confirm their decision or to see if there’s a reason to override it.

    Which means you don’t have to give them a lot of information or go hard trying to persuade them.

    If, based on first impressions, they’ve decided they want to hire you, you only need to tell them enough so they can justify their decision. If you give them more, you risk overwhelming or confusing them, giving them more things to think about or question, and talking yourself out of the sale. 

    On the other hand, if they initially decided to not hire you, loading them up with information is unlikely to get them to change their mind. 

    People don’t like changing their minds.

    Give them basic information and not too much of it. If they want more, they’ll ask for more. 

    Hey, this is good news. Since the sale is made before you speak to the prospective client, you just have to say enough to not screw it up.


    How much is that doggy in the window?


    You know, the one with the waggly tail? 

    How much does he cost? And how much is he worth? 

    He’s more than a bag of bones and fur, you know. He’s warm and cuddly and will make you smile and laugh and love you to pieces. 

    He’s worth far more than he costs. 

    Just like the value of your services. 

    Clients aren’t just buying the results you deliver. That’s a big part of it, but they’re also buying other benefits like the way you treat them and take care of them and make them feel safe. 

    They’re buying a bundle of benefits and they are part of the value you deliver.  

    Value includes everything you do to make your client’s life happier, easier, safer, or more profitable. At a price they’re willing to pay. 

    How much is all that you do worth to them? I don’t know, but your clients will tell you. They’ll tell you by the way they say thank you, the ease with which they pay, their repeat business and referrals, their positive reviews, and how they sound when they hear your voice on the phone. 

    I don’t know if you have a waggly tail, but you’re worth more than a bag of bones and fur.