Whether we like it or not, the legal profession is changing–just like the rest of the world. Those of us with smartphones know that access to information is literally instantaneous and can be obtained with the touch of a button. These days, communication is a far cry from the days of calling and sending faxes, instead being replaced with text messages and emails.
Which results in a world that is less personal and more self-sufficient–or is it? I would argue that for lawyers, it’s the exact opposite.
In full disclosure, although I own a small law firm in San Diego, I’m also the founder and Vice President of MyCase, a cloud-based law practice management system which includes built-in communications features to help lawyers interact with their clients through a client portal. However, this does not change the validity of my position in this post.
At the outset, it’s important to recognize that what matters is not how we as lawyers use communication and information tools, but rather how our clients use them. Our consumer clients have become accustomed to instant access to information at all times, something that has always been obvious to me when representing my criminal defense clients. Every client regardless of their socioeconomic demographic wants immediate access to information about their case.
For example, what happens when potential clients call the first few lawyers that pop up when they Google “San Diego criminal lawyer?” They call until they’re able to speak with someone. If they reach an answering machine, more often than not, they’ll hang up and move on to the next attorney. This is because they expect information immediately.
As a lawyer, you might think that once you’re hired, this requirement for immediacy goes away. In fact, it doesn’t. What actually happens is that if your clients aren’t able to reach you right away, they’ll continue to call repeatedly because, to them, their case is the most important thing going on in their lives. I know that if you’re a lawyer reading this you know exactly what I mean. And, in this situation, if your clients have to continue to pester you for an answer to the simplest of questions, they will more than likely end up seeking different counsel.
It is not enough anymore to eventually get around to returning phone calls from our clients and answering their questions. We need to provide them with real-time information and allow them to interact with us as well as stay up to date on their case. Thankfully, technology, such as client portals, is now available which makes this task much easier to accomplish–and without having to engage an entire army of support staff.
Think about your clients as partners who are there to assist you with their cases and not just as people paying you to solve a legal problems for them. Ensure that they are aware of all case developments and of the decisions that you are making on their behalf. Share all documents and items that you prepare or receive in their cases (unless of course you have a legal obligation which prevents you from doing so). Collaborate with them. Communicate with them–not just to them.
More than ever before, clients, just like lawyers, expect to receive more information in a shorter and more timely manner. Our expensive law degrees and large fees don’t exempt us from this expectation. In fact, these factors only make us more accountable for our ability–or inability–to communicate.
Consider this: when you visit your doctor because you’re ill, you make sure to provide your doctor with as much pertinent information as possible. In return, you expect to receive all results and information shortly after the doctor receives them. For most people, it is not enough to simply sit idly by and wait for a phone call with the results of a blood test. You want to know where that blood sample is, how many samples are in line to be tested before yours, and how quickly the technician will get around to testing your sample.
The lesson to be learned is to communicate with your clients just as you would like to be interacted with in the above situation. If you do that, you’ll have clients for life, as well as referrals to everyone they know.