If you work in or around the legal world, you’re aware of the public perception of law firms.
It’s not good.
In fact, when you reveal to a stranger that you work in a law firm, that person often feels free to give you a piece of their mind about how much disdain they feel for your profession. Of course, within five minutes, that same person is typically asking you for free legal advice.
So, perhaps we should take these generalized complaints with a grain of salt. After all, people have been complaining about lawyers since the time of Shakespeare. But are there times when you should be concerned about the negative perception of law firms? The answer is yes – it’s when your own clients are harboring ill feelings about you.
Now is a good time to slow down, listen to the top complaints about law firms that many clients have, and take proactive measures to overcome those grievances. So, we’ve compiled some of the most common complaints for you to consider.
#1: Your bills make no sense
It’s true, you’re charging your clients a lot of money. They’re entitled to understand what you’re doing with that money. Without even getting into the ethical obligations in billing, clients simply want more information.
Imagine a bill for $5,000 (from an attorney who charges $500/hour) with the following time entry: “Reviewed discovery responses, 10 hours.” In many cases, that is an honest and reasonable amount of time to spend reviewing discovery. From the client’s perspective, however, there is no way to gauge the veracity of this entry.
Imagine instead that the time entry read: “Reviewed discovery as follows: (1) Responses to 150 written interrogatories (2.5 hours); (2) Objections to 200 document requests (3.0 hours); (3) 600 documents produced by opposing party (4.5 hours).” Suddenly, the client is feeling much less anxious about what is costing them so much money, and more aware of just how much time and effort is being spent on their behalf.
We all know task billing isn’t fun or easy. But if it helps keep clients happy and grow your business, isn’t it worth it?
#2: You wait until the last minute to do everything
As legal professionals, we eat, sleep, and breathe deadlines. Our calendars are filled with them. Most of us know we’re going to meet those deadlines without fail. Our clients, however, don’t live in our high-pressure world. They know that a significant case deadline is coming up, and they’re wringing their hands wondering if you’re going to meet it. This can be maddening.
There are two simple ways to overcome this client complaint. First, set internal firm deadlines that call for completion of projects a week or so before the actual deadline. When the client sees a completed draft so early in the process, she’ll spend a lot less time worrying. Alternatively, simply take 30 seconds every couple of days to give the client a quick update on your progress. An email or text is fine for these purposes. At least the client knows you’re not asleep at the wheel and can relax awaiting the actual deadline date.
#3: You’re rude
This is one client complaint that is often levied against all professionals in a law firm, from named partners to research clerks. The fact is, legal professionals are terribly busy. It can be highly annoying to receive numerous phone calls and emails from anxious clients questioning your every move. That’s no excuse to be rude, or even curt or brusque, which can easily come off the same way.
The only remedy here, of course, is to slow down and check your attitude when communicating with clients. Again, they pay our salaries and are largely responsible for bringing new clients. In light of that, a little positive communication can go a long way.
#4: The client hired a named partner with a particular specialty but is now working with a bunch of novices
This happens all the time. A client has a unique legal problem and seeks out a well-renowned expert in this highly-specialized field. Once she pays the retainer fee, however, she seems to only communicate with junior associates and paralegals on the matter. She’s not convinced they have the expertise she was looking for.
As legal professionals, we know it is commonplace for a busy partner to oversee many underlings across many matters. Remember that your client doesn’t live in your world. To her, this arrangement can seem like a bait and switch. The best way to overcome this complaint is to communicate early and often with the client about exactly who will be on her team. Explain that the team approach is common and that the partner will maintain ultimate control over what happens in her matter. Again, a little communication goes a long way.
Did you notice that the common remedy to each of the above complaints is good, positive, communication? It might not be a bad idea to make that goal an officewide mandate.