Stop telling clients you’re not in your office

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Your clients don’t need to know that you are away from the office. Or on vacation. They don’t need to know that you received their email, or be told that you will reply as soon as possible.

So why do you tell them?

Being accessible is important, especially when so many attorneys aren’t. But that doesn’t mean you should put yourself on a leash.

Away messages, vacation messages, and “I got your email” messages send the wrong message. They say, “I’m here, you can always reach me, and if I’m away for a bit, I’m sorry, don’t worry, I’ll be back soon.”

It’s bad posture. It says, “I need your business,” when in truth, the message you want to convey is just the opposite.

Your clients need to know that you’re good at what you do, you work hard for them, and if they have you as their attorney, they are very fortunate.

They need you. You don’t need them.

Most clients shouldn’t even have your personal email address. They should have an “office” email and know that it is monitored by someone who works for you. If a client writes, they need to know that someone will read it and reply promptly.

That someone probably won’t be you.

You want clients to know that you’re busy, in demand by other clients, and successful. Your time is extremely valuable and you have people working for you who do most of the front line communication on your behalf.

You’re there, behind the scenes, calling the shots. If your staff can’t help them, or there’s an emergency, they can reach you.

But your clients need to go through them.

Just like when they call.

Delegate more and you will earn more

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What to do about freebie seekers

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We all get people asking us for free advice. It goes with the territory. But sometimes it gets to us, as a friend of mine expressed in a recent email:

“Hi David –

Do you get requests to provide free advice?

I’m feeling insulted by professionals – many of them strangers – expecting me to provide free advice.

I hear “I just want to ask a few questions” or “I don’t have money to pay you” and the like.

Am I putting the wrong vibe out there? Or, is it a universal problem?

What do you think?

Thanks for your input.”

I said, “So you’re asking me for free advice about what to do about people who ask for free advice?”

Okay, having a bit of fun, but isn’t that what she’s doing? Even if we are friends and even if she is only letting off steam and looking for me to tell her this is normal (which is it), her request makes plain how easy it is for people to ask for free advice.

That’s just the way it is.

I get these, too. Are we putting out the wrong vibe? I don’t know but I don’t worry about it.

In fact, it’s a good thing. It means that people feel comfortable reaching out to us. It means they value our advice, yes, even if they are unwilling or unable to pay for it.

So don’t let it get to you.

The question isn’t how many people don’t want to pay, it’s how many do. Are you making money? Are most of the people who contact you willing to hire you? When they do, are they willing to pay top dollar?

Focus on them and you will attract more of them.

And hey, just because someone emails you doesn’t mean you have to respond. Or explain why you charge for your services, or why you charge as much as you do.

If you do respond, point to the page on your website that explains your policies, enumerates the services you offer, and tells them what to do to hire you or take the next step.

Or ask them, as I often do, “Do you want to book a consultation?” I usually don’t hear from them again.

Be firm. But be nice. Because today’s freebie seeker might be tomorrow’s paying client.

And if you are inclined to respond substantively, as I am doing here, turn your response into a blog post or article, as I am doing here. Think of it as your compensation. Because you don’t work for free.

How to use your website to weed out freebie seekers

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An attorney who gets it

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I may not use the word “posture” but that’s what I mean when I recommend charging top dollar for your services, refusing to discount or match another lawyer’s fees, and being confident enough to tell prospective clients to talk to other lawyers, as I did in yesterday’s post. Virginia appellate attorney Steve Emmert gets it.

After reading yesterday’s post, he emailed me the following:

Hi, David –

I read this entry, and it suggested a related topic. You may recall that I’m an appellate lawyer. Because my state’s appellate bar is small, we all know each other and we’re all pals. I therefore have a ready database of available alternate counsel.

My “related topic” is my fees. I have intentionally set my fees at the upper end of the range for appellate lawyers here. When someone – either a prospective client or one of my “customers,” a trial lawyer – calls and asks about my fee, I tell them up-front that I’m one of the most expensive appellate lawyers in the state. I then quote them a fee based on that premise.

As you might imagine, my fees dissuade many customers and clients from hiring me. I’m never upset when they can’t afford me; I tell them I can find them another capable appellate lawyer who can do it for less money. That makes everybody happy – my pal gets a new case that he would never have seen otherwise, and the client/customer gets to experience the unthinkable – an attorney telling him or her, “Don’t give me your money.” That usually floors them, and I have received more than one message, a year or two later, thanking me for my honesty and for the referral.

Finally, the real point of this overlong note:

Some customers or clients ask me to reduce my fee. My stock reply harks back to the previous paragraph: “No, but if you want, I can find you a capable” etc. This usually generates one of two responses. The first is, “Yes, please, I’d like to save some money.” I give those folks a name or two and then go about my life with a clean conscience. People who want to economize on a lawyer are not high on my target list of incoming business.

The other possible answer, which often comes after a day or two, is “I’ve thought about it, and while I appreciate the offer of a less-expensive lawyer, I’ve decided that I really want you to represent me. I’ll pay your quoted fee.” Imagine what that feels like; these are the kind of customers that you really go the extra mile for.

As you might surmise, Steve loves what he does. He gets to pick and choose the cases he accepts and because he charges top dollar, he doesn’t need lots of business to enjoy a very comfortable income.

Hold on, you say? That’s fine for someone with his years of experience and stellar reputation. One look at his website and you know that this is the guy you want to hire. Most attorneys can’t be that choosy. Most attorneys can’t get away with being “one of the most expensive” in their field.

And you are right. Most attorneys can’t. But far more could do so than even make the attempt.

Look, you’ve got to be good at what you do and you’ve got to be able to prove it. You have to have the chops. You can’t be the new kid on the block and expect to charge what lawyers with thirty year’s experience charge.

But you can charge more than you think.

Most attorneys play it safe. They “price match” what other attorneys charge, or they undercut them. They’re afraid of the competition. They expect that all clients choose their attorney based on price (they don’t) and believe they have to be competitive to get their “share” of the work that’s available.

They operate in fear, not confidence.

Who’s to say you can’t charge more than you do? Who’s to say you’re not as good as other lawyers who charge more, if not better?

I don’t know if you have what it takes to be “one of the most expensive” attorneys in your market, but I have long advocated setting fees that are at least in the upper one-third of the market. Obviously, most attorneys don’t.

If you’re not good enough yet, do what you have to do to get there. But if you are, don’t let a lack of confidence or a fear of losing business to other (cheaper) lawyers stop you from getting what you’re worth.

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