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What it means to be a client-focused law firm

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It’s quite possible that many legal professionals will read the title of this blog post and think, “of course our firm is client-focused! What other focus would we have?” The true answer to that question is not pretty. Remember, I practiced law for over a dozen years and therefore I know a few of the dirty little secrets that exist within law firms.

For example, I’ve seen firms that are focused on billable hours. They tend to be the same firms focused on per-partner profits. Other firms are focused on publicity. Still others are concerned with national rankings or popularity among prize recruits. The truth is, there are a whole host of things that a law firm might be focused on aside from its clients.

Those models may have worked well in the past. Back in the days before Google searches, online reviews, and instant access to virtually endless information, law firms may have gotten away with pretending they were client-focused when, in fact, they had other significant motivators. Today, a firm has to actually work at serving its clients in order to thrive. Here’s what that looks like on a day to day basis:

Give your clients reasonable access to your work

You’re billing your clients a lot of money for the work that you do. It is reasonable for them to want to see your progress. Why not give them access to it? With technologies like Clio, your clients can have instant (and secure) access to things such as: documents, messages, calendar items, and upcoming tasks.

It’s one thing to tell a client “I’m working on it.” It’s quite another to allow them to fact-check that statement whenever they feel like it. The odds are that very few of them will ever check up on you. Nonetheless, using a secure file-sharing service like Clio will build a level of trust that can earn your firm the reputation as being client-focused.

Give your clients reasonable access to you

The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct have long recognized that “reasonable communication between the lawyer and the client is necessary for the client effectively to participate in the representation.” In today’s high-tech world, what does “reasonable communication” actually mean?

In the not-too-distant past, clients had limited options for reaching clients. They likely had an office phone number they could call and maybe an after-hours “emergency” call service number. Today, however, most people expect to be able to reach anyone, anywhere within moments.

The key here is to give your clients reasonable access while still setting reasonable communication boundaries. It’s fine to give clients your personal cell phone number. It is also perfectly fine to tell clients when they can – and cannot – call you. Your job isn’t to be available 24/7. It is to set expectations about communication and then meet those expectations for your clients.

Give your clients reasonable payment options

I think we all recognize that the days are gone when every new client can be expected to give you a large retainer check, followed by full payment of each monthly invoice. Gone too are the days (for many clients) of agreeing to pay the firm’s full hourly rate each month. These days, clients have too many options when it comes to finding legal help. Like it or not, they will turn to services like JustAnswer, LawHelp, or Nolo to get the answers they think they need. They’ll also get referrals to attorneys who work at rates a lot cheaper than yours. You and I both know, however, those attorneys are probably much less skilled than the attorneys at your firm.

So, how does your firm continue to capture that business? Consider offering alternative fee arrangements. With a little strategic planning, these options will keep clients comfortably turning to you for legal help while simultaneously feeling like they’re getting the most bang for their buck.

Listen to client feedback

Finally, if you want to have a client-focused firm, you probably need to begin truly listening to your clients’ feedback regarding your services. If you think soliciting client input doesn’t matter, think again. For example, one research firm recently polled corporate counsel clients to find out whether it mattered to them that the firms they chose solicited their feedback.

The results speak for themselves – “Over 75% of respondents believe[d] that satisfaction surveys are “critical” or “important” for an ongoing relationship.” Given this startling statistic, isn’t it worth it to put together a post-engagement survey for your clients?

Becoming a client-focused firm isn’t difficult. It may require a little shift in focus. In the end, however, you may be surprised how much your renewed focus improves your bottom line. What other measures has your firm taken to become client-focused? Let us know in the comments section, below.

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