Lawyers are not particularly fond of talking to their clients. That’s weird, right? After all, their clients pay them, and stuff. Regardless, lawyers find it very difficult to engage their clients at almost every level. At intake, they’re uncomfortable talking about stakes, outcomes and money. When the engagement is ongoing, they don’t want to talk about negative results, and they definitely don’t want to talk about money. Even when representation is over, and the client gets a win, lawyers still do a poor job following up with their clients, and asking for future business.
In my experience, if you give a lawyer a dark room, a desk, and a computer, they’re happy as pigs in . . . Well, a dark room, with a desk and a computer. But, even if lawyers would prefer to live a monastic existence and testing case theories without the bother of an actual client base, the fact is that lawyers need clients to make money. And, the way you keep clients happy (and continually paying you) is to engage in regular, constructive dialogue. But, as with so many things, it’s easier to build habits that you can adhere to, rather than sitting in silence or alternately winging it.
Therefore, I present five tried and true client communication tactics:
I Just Called to Say I Billed You.
Don’t be that guy whose only client communication is a bill. You’re not offering a software system for sale on a subscription model — you’re in the handholding business. So, hold those virtual hands. By way of a simple tactic to help absolve you of this sin, endeavor to have one conversation with your client for every bill you send. And, when you send those bills, don’t nickel-and-dime people — and that includes the species of nickel-and-diming where you shortchange your clients on descriptions of billable work. Every time you send an invoice, you need to reconfirm your value to your client.
If you’re not the type of attorney who only sends bills, you might be the type of attorney who only send bills and case updates. The problem with relying entirely on case-related notifications is two-fold. For one thing, you should be doing that anyway, such that this kind of thing adds almost no value to the services you provide. For another thing, those updates may be too infrequent to be effective, and may only serve to frustrate your clients — especially considering that, for certain practices, matters languish. If you’re a lawyer who runs a personal injury law firm, you’re liable to be communicating regularly with your client at the outset of representation; but then, things may stall for a while as you wrangle with the insurance company. So, when you email your client out of the blue a year-and-a-half later that you have a dope settlement offer, they’re gonna be like, ‘Uh, who are you again, and how did you get my email?’
On the Six.
The solution is to create reasons to talk with your existing clients, who (by the way) are usually the best source of referrals for law firms — more on that in a moment. Here’s a good rule of thumb: contact your clients at least every six weeks, even if nothing is happening. Lawyers tend to dread these calls, in part because lawyers are so godawful at making small talk. But, clients love random check-ins; they feel cared for. So, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to do anything in terms of actual work to check in with your clients. Just say hello. Ask about their kids’ soccer teams, or their state spoons collection, whatever. If they update you on their case, then maybe you learn something relevant. If not, you’re satisfying your clients in a way you never have before. (Wait — that definitely came out wrong.)
This is like Free Masonry; apparently, you have to ask. With your existing clients, you have to ask for referrals because it’s not top of mind for them. Your best opportunity to do this is when you close a case with a satisfied client. But, this is a little bit of a dance, too — because your satisfied client is thinking: ‘Thank God that’s over; I don’t have to pay this schmuck anymore’. You have to revert that stream of consciousness back to your last successful enterprise: I’m glad we achieved the result you wanted. My business is built on your referrals. I’d be happy to also help any friends, family, or colleagues of yours who have similar issues in the future.
But, don’t leave it at that. Give your satisfied clients actual opportunities to repay the favor: Ask for a review. Send out a regular newsletter or client alert to your list of prior clients, too — to stay in touch, while providing additional value. Throw a party on an off-holiday, like Flag Day. Give yourself ample opportunities to casually engage your client base, and they’ll be more likely to send you future business.
About the author
Jared D. Correia, Esq. is the CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which offers subscription-based law firm business management consulting and technology services for solo and small law firms. Red Cave also works with legal institutions and legal-facing corporations to develop programming and content. A former practicing attorney, Jared has been advising lawyers and law firms for over a decade. He is a regular presenter at local, regional and national events, including ABA TECHSHOW. He regularly contributes to legal publications, including his column, ‘Managing,’ for Attorney at Work, and his ‘Law Practice Confidential’ advice column for Lawyerist. Jared is the author of the American Bar Association publication ‘Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers’. He is the host of the Legal Toolkit podcast on Legal Talk Network. Jared also teaches for Concord Law School, Suffolk University Law School and Solo Practice University. He loves James Taylor, but respects Ron Swanson; and, he tries to sneak Rolos when no one is looking.