Worry not about losing clients; just work to keep them

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Published on 5/18/09

Law firms today are so preoccupied with their own survival that not enough of them are asking their clients: "How am I doing?" As a result, many lawyers, unfortunately, never figure out that a client is unhappy.

If they don't hear from a client after completing a matter, they just think that the client has no additional legal work. They don't realize that the client was so unhappy that, although they didn't complain, they just didn't return.

We have written previously that sending simple, regular status reports can do much to communicate with clients and show what you, as their lawyer, are doing for them. However, status reports only convey information from the lawyer to the client. Far more important for maintaining the lawyer-client relationship is an effort to find out what clients themselves think.

For years, the main tool for doing this sort of research has been one that many lawyers dread using: a written client-survey form. Most lawyers are reluctant to ask the questions. They're afraid of the answers. But what better result could you get than to be told there is something that you can correct and thereby strengthen the relationship when you do? The client feels appreciated and heard and recognizes that you care enough to ask and to make a change.

Too often, marketing gurus suggest that written surveys be sent in the mail after a matter or litigation is concluded. Experience suggests that this is the wrong time. No matter what you learn from the responses (and it's likely that there won't be many responses, probably not even a statistically valid amount), it's after the fact.

That timing means the lawyer will not be able to salvage that client relationship if there is real dissatisfaction. It's a far better idea to send a short survey with the first billing. If there is anything wrong, it's best to know at the beginning when there is time to correct any deficiency.

When you care enough to...

For larger firms, it is very beneficial for the managing partner to periodically visit the 10 top clients of the firm. The fact that the firm's leader cares enough to visit a client can have a dramatic impact on the overall relationship.

Such a visit doesn't have to be an elaborate production. Simply meet clients over coffee and ask: "How is our firm doing? Should we be doing something differently? Are we addressing the issues that concern you?"

Admittedly, this may open a dialogue that may be difficult at times, but it should be part of any lawyer's skill set. Marketing is the process by which we persuade another - in this case, clients- of our merits to meet their needs.

The context is no different from persuading a judge or jury of our client's position; of persuading our supervising partner that we're the right person to work on a matter; of convincing a prospective client that we can get the result he seeks.

Lawyers practice such persuasion all the time. When we do it consciously with our clients, we have a better chance of retaining them.

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