The Most Important Legal Ranking — The Client's

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The legal profession seems obsessed with how it rates. From the long-established Martindale-Hubbell two-letter code ranking of lawyers and listings in "The Best Lawyers in America" to more recent authorities like Chambers USA and the host of online services led by, ranking lawyers has become a cottage industry.

Law schools have jumped into the act with both feet, sometimes even gaming admission statistics (as the American Bar Association sanctioned the University of Illinois College of Law for doing) to garner a higher ranking in U.S. News & World Report. The gist of all these rankings is that they purport to "objectively" portray a lawyer's skill, service and ethics.

Regardless of such surveys' actual relevance, there is one ranking that indisputably proves how good any attorney or firm is at practicing law: how you rate with your current clients.

Without the clients, there is no reason to be a lawyer. Attorneys don't practice law; they serve clients. It's essential that the client knows what the lawyer is doing and that the client approves of the tactics to be taken to achieve client goals. If clients do not believe that a lawyer is serving their best interests, they will take their business elsewhere.

Effective attorneys find out not only what clients need, but also what they want. The skills of a lawyer and the way in which services are delivered to the client are the ultimate measures of professional effectiveness — and the measuring is done by the client.

The very first Rule of Professional Conduct (1.1) asserts that "a lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client." But competence is actually a pretty low benchmark. You can very clearly see where you rank on the criteria your clients really value by rating yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 on these three measurements:

  • How fast do clients pay you? If the client pays each bill every month like clockwork, you rate high. If, however, the client owes a great deal of money and shows very little inclination to pay it, your rating is low.

    You truly have a good relationship with your client only when the client's account receivable is up to date within 30 days. Delinquent accounts at 90 to 180 days indicate that the client is dissatisfied, doesn't respect you, or may be considering disciplinary action.

  • How many referrals do clients make to you? Asking clients for a testimonial does not equal a business referral; most clients value confidentiality and subconsciously are reluctant, even when they do give permission, to be identified publicly.

    The real indicator of how you rate with them is how many relatives, friends and business colleagues they refer to you. A client who is named on your website but who makes no referrals is actually giving you a low ranking.

  • How often do clients talk with you? Not enough firms ask their clients simply how they're doing, and thus never even know they're unhappy. The best answers come by visiting the client periodically. Don't be apprehensive about what to say or do in making such visits; the real goal is to get clients to talk about their business and to listen to what they're saying. If clients tell you their hopes and plans, they rank you high. If the conversation is short, ask quickly how you can improve the dynamic — or risk losing that client.

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