Communication

By Erik M. Pelton

One of the keys to a successful law practice of any size is communication. Not only communication with staff and colleagues, but communication with clients.

Smaller law firms have the advantage of being more transparent and having less bureaucracy. Clients of smaller firms expect to receive more personal service, and rightly so. Here are some simple tips for maximizing the benefits of client communications:

  • Communicate in a variety of formats. Use email, telephone, and more to provide the client with options. Some clients now use Facebook as a primary platform and may wish to message your via its services. Some prefer to talk on the phone. Yet others – particularly those far away – prefer video conferences. Provide clients with several means to reach you, so that they can use what works best for them.
  • Be prompt. If you receive a client email or phone message, get back to them the same day if possible, at most within 24 hours. Even if you cannot provide an answer at first, respond and acknowledge the message and provide an estimate for giving a fuller response. This provides quality customer service and prevents you from fielding additional nagging messages that follow up with the original one.
  • Answer all brief inquiries immediately. If you can provide an answer in 3 minutes or less, provide the answer right away. Then the communication is removed from your to-do list, making your life workflow more efficient, and the client is glad that he or she did not need to wait for a response.
  • Communicate proactively. Advise clients of status changes in their files, payment confirmations, and more. Advise the client of the next steps and the likely time frame. Set up template letters or emails for doing so. These proactive communications take little time and avoid and a large volume of status inquiries.
  • Ask for feedback. Do not be afraid to ask clients for feedback about your services, not necessarily the substantive part of your services, but the procedural. How could I have provided you with better service? Do you have any suggestions that make my other clients even happier in the future? When you receive a glowing testimonial from a client, ask for permission to use it with attribution in your marketing materials.
  • Stay in touch with former clients. Provide former clients with opportunities to subscribe to your electronic newsletter, blog, or podcast. Keeping your name in front of former clients is the best way to continue to receive referrals and repeat business.
  • Delegate. If you are too busy to handle some of the above communications, delegate them to staff or outsource them. But remember that clients are paying for you and for partner level services. I have my staff draft email templates and forward them to me, so I can be the one sending the message to the client. Clients understand that they may not always be able to speak with me by phone, but they know that I am generally accessible and that I will always take part in important discussions.
  • Get communications from clients. Check out your clients’ websites. If they have social media pages, blogs, or newsletters, subscribe. This is a great way to stay on top of their business and their industry, and to make your advice more informed and stronger. When a client hears “I saw in your last newsletter that your company recently ….” they are always impressed. I have often leveraged such knowledge into new business for counsel the client may not have realized it needed.

Effective communications both to and from clients is critical to successful management of a small firm and to exceeding the client’s expectations. Strategic communications policies will also reduce redundant or confused messages that cause many headaches and waste unnecessary time. Clients left in the dark will be overly stressed, negative, and distrustful about their attorney’s efforts and value. Clients whose expectations are exceeded are likely to become large reservoirs of repeat business and referrals

© 2011 Erik M. Pelton. All rights reserved