Revisiting client visits

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Published on 3/29/10

I've frequently written about the importance of meeting with and talking to your clients. As business starts to show hints of thawing and warming up, now is a good time to revisit the issue of client visits.

Far too often, lawyers are apprehensive about making such visits. But begin with a confidence-building premise: Clients do not need to be convinced of your or your firm's expertise; otherwise they would not have remained clients. What they want is to feel comfortable with you as a professional.

The best way to make them comfortable is to get them to talk about their business. Your client visit should focus on listening to what they have to say. The more they talk, the more you will learn about how you and the firm can meet their needs.

Knowing more about the client's business is what marketing is all about. Knowing what to ask and how to ask it is an art and a science. Your goal is to learn more about someone you may have been serving for years and to look for potential business that you do not yet have from them. Here are some pointers:

  • Schedule the visit at the time most convenient for the client and for any people the client wants to involve (which broadens your own circle of relationships).
  • When the day for the visit comes, remember that you are there to learn about the client, not to pitch for new business.
  • Never put clients on the defensive with a style of questioning you would use in a deposition or when structuring a contract. This is win-win. The better they feel about talking to you now, the more they will want to turn to you in the future. Try to avoid "why" questions, which are likely to carry a judgmental tone. What you want are empathy and rapport.
  • Make all your questions open-ended. Phrase them to give clients the opportunity to provide as much information as possible.
  • Do not feel you need to respond to everything clients tell you. Show interest and demonstrate that you've heard, but keep much of what you hear "on file" for a future moment, when it is more appropriate to offer new services or ways to help.
  • Make sure you've done your research. Clients want to tell you about themselves, but they appreciate the respect you demonstrate by having taken the trouble to learn more about them.

When clients hear you asking about their plans and objectives, they begin to think of you as a long-term friend. Do not worry about asking clients direct questions about their business. They want to tell you because they want to trust their lawyer and because it's a business necessity to share with you information they do not necessarily need to tell their insurance broker or their accountant.

When asked, clients will answer your questions with candor. The right approach will help the client see you as a trusted business advisor and confidant, not just a service provider.

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