From Satisfaction to Partnership: Taking Client Relationships to the Next Level

Published in Legal Management, November/December 2007

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For 25 years as a practicing lawyer (before I began coaching and consulting with lawyers some 17 years ago), I was very involved with the State Bar of California's campaign to elevate the image of lawyers. I believed this was a losing battle because, by definition, 50 percent of the litigating population loses a lawsuit and will think the other side's attorney was mean-spirited, unethical, and unprofessional. The State Bar conducted focus groups, during which all participants said their lawyers (not the opposing lawyers) created the problems. They cited poor service, failure to return phone calls, inaccurate arithmetic on the billing statements, and on and on.

This speaks to the legal profession's fundamental truth: Lawyers should not just practice law; they must serve clients. To remain in law practice and earn a reasonable livelihood, a lawyer must provide a quality service and work product that is perceived by the client to have value for him or her. Without clients, there is no reason to be a lawyer. And if clients do not believe that their lawyers are serving their best interests, they will take their business elsewhere.

This is not a cost issue, as most clients recognize the importance of and are willing to pay a fair fee for value. They do not want to pay for inefficiency, poor service, unnecessary services, lack of communication, or unreliability. A lawyer's skills and the way in which services are delivered to the client must be in harmony with what the client wants and needs to have. There are four stages or levels at which this harmony between lawyer and client can be measured, each defining a progressively more effective relationship.

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