You may have read the article I wrote about marketing that appeared in the recent Paradigm magazine. There, I wrote about establishing relationships with clients and potential clients. In this article I will address the need to maintain client relations. It goes without saying that clients are the lifeblood of any law firm. You can be the most skillful lawyer in the world, but without clients you will not have the opportunity to prove it.
If your practice is like that of the vast majority of lawyers in the United States, you handle cases that many other lawyers and firms handle. So, why did the client select your firm over the many other lawyers and firms in your jurisdiction who perform similar legal work? I believe, as stated in the Paradigm article, that it is because, at some point, someone in your firm established a relationship with that client.
An important question thus arises: how do you keep the client after that relationship has been established? The answer is easy: swap places with your client. Give your client what you would want if you were the client.
Here are a few examples:
1) Read your clients websites so you understand their business. Let your clients know that you are familiar with their business.
2) Meet your client in person, if possible, and the sooner, the better. If you are representing an insurance company, also meet the insured early on.
3) Without fail, follow all of your clients litigation guidelines or instructions. Do everything required, when it is required. No excuses.
4) Use a retainer letter to explain what you normally would do to handle the case unless the client requests a different course of action.
5) Send narrative reports about everything you do on a file. The client needs to know as much about the case as you do, unless he/she tells you otherwise. If your client is an entity, make sure your reports provide sufficient detail that the client contact person can answer questions asked by his/her superiors. Also remember to report on all court hearings.
6) Proofread all writings. Typos and misspellings adversely reflect on your attention to detail.
7) Report to every client every 30 days with a status report. Talk to your clients every 60 days.
8) Keep individual clients, like an insured, advised of everything and then some. Remember, unlike a corporate client, the experience of litigating a lawsuit may be new and foreign to individual clients. They will appreciate the extra effort. Keep in mind that those individuals are potential clients on other matters.
9) On litigated matters, explain how and when the court will select a trial date and report trial dates immediately when notified.
10) On each litigation file, provide information to your client on opposing counsel, the make-up of juries in the county where the case is pending, and other pertinent information that might affect a jury verdict.
11) Provide settlement evaluations as required by litigation guidelines and update evaluations as the case progresses. Explain in detail the reasons for changes in your evaluation and provide exhibits, video depositions, or anything else that supports your changed evaluation.
12) With respect to every file you are handling, constantly ask yourself, Have I done everything this client want(s)(ed) me to do?
13) Do everything you can do to resolve the case at the earliest possible time, as is appropriate and in the best interest of your client. This will save both you and the client valuable time and resources. Make sure your client knows that you are working to handle the case efficiently and effectively.
14) Be honest with your billing. Also, describe the work you do on your time sheet so that the client understands what you did, why you did it, and how the client benefitted from the work. (Keep in mind that some items may not warrant a charge and should be designated as no charge.)
15) Regularly send clients articles and cases of interest. This demonstrates that you know the client well and that you are always looking out for the clients best interests.
16) Diplomatically and tactfully make suggestions about better practices your clients could employ.
17) Enhance your legal knowledge by attending seminars and all social functions sponsored at seminars.
18) Make a point to introduce yourself to judges and bailiffs in the courtrooms where you will be litigating cases. Gather as much information as you can about them so you can report to the client.
19) Get involved in your community. Volunteer for leadership positions in the organizations of which you are a member. Author articles for publication. Be a presenter at a CLE event or conference. These are opportunities for professional development, marketing, and networking. Plus, your client will think well of you.
20) Get involved in your local and state bar associations. Find a way to distinguish yourself from other lawyers who do the same legal work. Consider running for office. Your clients will be impressed.
21) Attend a trial, whether it is your firms case or not. You will gain insight that you can pass on to your client.
22) Let your clients know that they are important to you and your firm.
If you follow these suggestions, your clients will love you and recommend you to others. If you dont, or if you only follow those that suit you, your clients will soon move on to someone else. As a practical matter, would you rather tell one of your senior partners that you lost a client, or that a client has recommended you to another potential client?
Duncan Y. Manley is the Chair Emeritus of the Primerus Defense Institute. He is a partner with Christian & Small LLP in Birmingham, Alabama, where he practices in the areas of business and commercial litigation, insurance, premises liability, product liability, transportation, and mediation and arbitration.