Client Preference is Perishable

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Your revenue is a perishable commodity. When you perform work for clients that satisfies them, you're satisfying them for the moment. There is no real bond that keeps the client with you indefinitely. So in effect, what we do as lawyers is rent volume.

As we know from real estate, renting is tenuous at best. You can be evicted, costs can go up — all kinds of problems that force you to find new places. However, if you're able to do more than merely satisfy the client, if you're able to create a bond and lasting loyalty, then you own that volume. You're no longer a renter. You're an owner, and no competitive lawyer will be able to displace you.

I know this from personal experience, not in connection with the legal practice that I had for over 25 years, but from the food industry in which I worked before I became a lawyer.

A buyer called me one day and said he'd like to see me in the office. So I went to see him, and he said, "Ed, we've done a cutting." (A "cutting" in the food industry is very much like a wine-tasting.) The buyer continued: "The quality of your product is really great. We love it. But it's not so good that I can avoid the competitive arena. And here's what your competitors are doing and what they're offering us. Take a look at it. I don't expect you to meet it entirely, but I need you to do something. Go back to the office and think about it and get back to me."

As I was driving back to the office, I realized something: I was the last one to receive a call from the buyer, because that buyer wanted to do business with me. That buyer had bonded with me. I had his loyalty. I did not have to meet the competition, but I did have to do something in order to make it look like he was an effective buyer and save his job.

What do clients look for? What helps establish the loyalty — beyond the obvious: justice and/or monetary gain — that solidifies client preference?

Clients look for lawyers who provide solutions, who don't bill unnecessarily, and who communicate. They're also looking for lawyers who can distinguish between what's appropriate work and what's legal thoroughness. Clients are looking for lawyers who can draw the line between what needs to be done to solve the problem and C.Y.A. work.

In particular, clients are looking for lawyers who understand how the client can most effectively hear what the lawyer says, whether by phone, email or in-person. Clients need lawyers who communicate effectively and — something we lawyers often forget— often. The No. 1 complaint from clients, one that is far more frequently lodged than any other, is the failure to return phone calls — that is, the failure to communicate.

So think about the difference between renting and owning, about satisfying and loyalty. Creating loyalty between you and your client goes beyond your performance in court or the conference room. Ensure that the client feels like a priority, and you will not merely be a renter of his services; you will own that revenue. You will own that relationship.

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