Client Relations - A View From The Inside

By Stewart M. Hirsch, Esq.

In the United States, most successful lawyers find that satisfied clients are the main contributors of new business matters. Satisfied clients may also refer new clients. What raises client satisfaction, and leads clients to give more work and valuable referrals? A critical portion of the answer is good work and a strong client relationship.

Following the three simple principles below will set you on the right course toward meeting this objective. The principles are the same whether you practice in Boston, Los Angeles, Berlin, London, Paris, Cairo or Bombay if you are dealing with US companies and your contacts are US lawyers or executives.

DO GOOD WORK

The quality of your work will probably be judged on the results it produces and on the client’s view of whether your solution or response is practical and understandable. However, you cannot always rely on results to show the quality and value of your work. You can take additional steps to enhance your client’s view of your work product. Here are several suggestions:

q There may be a language barrier. Talk with your client and explain your work in a clear and concise manner before providing any written work. This gives your client an opportunity to review your work in light of your explanation.

q Provide an explanatory memorandum or letter that summarizes and simplifies the key points.

q Use a presentation method that will appear most professional and appropriate for the work you have done.

q Proofread carefully and correct any spelling, mathematical and grammatical errors.

HELP THE CLIENT LOOK GOOD

Make your client look good within (and in some cases, outside of) his/her organization by enhancing regard and respect for your client. Your client hired you to provide advice or resolve a problem. You are the client’s outside partner’ and your work is a reflection on the client. Here are some basic dos and don’ts:

q Make efficient use of time and materials, especially if you’re on the clock. Be sure you’re on the right track and check in on this often. Inform the client of delays as soon as you are aware of them.

q Be prepared to assist the client with internal communications regarding your assignment. For example, your client may prefer that you provide written work in a specific format. Also, your client may need you to attend meetings.

q Acknowledge your client’s contributions where appropriate, especially to or in front of his/her superiors. If the client makes mistakes, try not to blame the client, especially in front of others.

q Use the invoicing format the client prefers. This can make a difference as to how the client is viewed internally as a supervisor of your work.

MAKE THE CLIENT FEEL GOOD (ABOUT YOU)

When the client feels good about you, his/her respect for and trust in you will increase, as will the desire to give you more of the client’s business. Here are some obvious and not so obvious suggestions to consider:

q Treat your client with respect and consideration. For example, return phone calls and e-mails within the shortest time possible – under two hours is best. This shows the client that he/she is important to you. If you’re 12 time zones away, the client will understand, but don’t wait too long.

q Be friendly and, where appropriate, personal. Show the client that you are interested in him/her as a person and not just as a source of revenue.

q Call just to check in without a business agenda. Tell the client you are not charging for the call, and don’t charge.

q Solicit and give due regard to client feedback on your work and relationship. Ask for suggestions to better service the client’s needs.

Lawyers like to think that a great work product is a guarantee of future business and referrals. Doing good work is important, but it is not enough. Even if you produce the best work product and a great result, if the client looks bad within his/her organization or does not feel good about you, you will probably not get more work, and you definitely will not get referrals. Apply the same quality of effort into the relationship that you put into the work. When regard for the client is enhanced, and the client sees that you make an extra effort to show that you value the relationship, the client will have an extra incentive to seek your help again, and to refer you to others.

Stewart M. Hirsch, Esq.

Strategic Relationships

68 Ames Street, Sharon, MA 02067

(781) 784-5280, s.hirsch@strategicrelationships.com

Stewart, a former in-house lawyer is a business-development coach who helps lawyers get new business and build effective client relationships.