It’s one of those age old questions, like ‘How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop’? (It’s 3.) Unfortunately, when it comes to client maintenance, there is no wizened, old owl available to guide your ruminations. . . . If you’re even ruminating on the subject at all.
Lawyers, and the majority of business people, really, usually think of the sales cycle in terms of client acquisition: it’s the process whereby a potential client becomes kinetic, an actual client, being serviced by the law firm. Of course, the plain fact of the matter is that you’re always going about validating your clients’ choice of lawyer — or, at least, you should be. And, there are a number of ways, at various junctures, through which you can reestablish your acumen and expertise in the minds of your clients, thereby solidifying your relationships with your clients, reducing attrition of your client base and better securing word of mouth referrals.
When your new client signs an engagement agreement, which is the first tangible proof you have of her decision to commit to you, that is only the beginning of what will become a perpetual sales process. Your client will wish, even if she never articulates it, for continuing proof of your skill; and, your job as an entrepreneur is to not make her wait: be proactive in marketing your active legal services, just as you’re proactive about marketing your potential legal services.
The following represents a soft timeline for opportunities (and, that is how you should view these) available for reasserting your position as your clients’ go-to legal expert, post the signing of an engagement agreement:
–When you submit your first draft document. If you traffic in documents, as many lawyers do, make sure that the first document your client sees from you is a Grade A slab of beef. Even if the client requires changes, those changes should be based on substantive legal considerations, not sloppiness (typos, misspelled names, grammatical errors, e.g.), lack of clarity or basic oversights (your client expressed a particular concern, and you forgot to add the clause effectuating a solution). From a back office perspective, you’ll want to make sure you have robust template documents in place, and that you are using document automation tools to prop up your efficiency.
–When you have your first, or next, meeting. You’re on your best behavior, for the most part, when you’re meeting with a potential client in order to secure his business. The trick is following through on that promise. In that first meeting, you will establish a certain level of professionalism, that your client will come to expect from you, moving forward: essentially, you’ve set a bar, which you must, in the future, meet or exceed, in order to validate your client’s choice; and, that validation process begins the next time you meet your client. In a world dominated by technology, you may not meet your client until you are deep into representing him, which means that you’re then ensuring him, when you do meet, that the expectations established via technology-based communication methods attain in a personal professional setting, as well. If you run a totally virtual practice, and never meet your clients in-person, you’ll want to think hard about what your online persona says about you.
–When you don’t forget about them. It’s easy to maintain contact with potential clients; they’re your new toys; and, you’re frothing at the mouth to get a chance to play with them regularly. (That’s falling . . . with style.) Of course, it’s a little bit harder to continue to engage those same folks when they have signed on the dotted line, and become your clients. Sure, you’ll be required to contact them at certain points (upcoming trial date, finalizing documents); but, the times when you will contact your clients when you don’t have to is what will separate you from the vast majority of other lawyers. Everytime you pick up the phone, just to check in, you cement the correctness of your client’s decision to work with you in the first place; it’s true that you care about everyone’s case, as you said you did.
–When you send your first bill. There has never been a time where a client received a $5,000 invoice from a lawyer, and was like: ‘Ethel! Get my checkbook! We’ve got to pay the lawyer immediately!’ So, when you’re drafting that first bill, you’ve got to be sure that you are justifying your charges. Neither is this self-justification; of course you believe that your charges are justified — a bargain, even! Instead, view the transaction through the eyes of your client. Will he experience sticker shock, seeing what he owes put down onto paper? Will she view certain charges as nickel-and-dime offenses? Will he find your descriptions to be not compelling enough to justify the charge attached? There have been whole books written about this subject: Drafting Bills Clients Rush to Pay — available through our Lending Library. Now, they may never rush; but, you could maybe make them waddle.
–When you collect from them. Not everyone’s going to pay you on time, or even be able to do so. Don’t be unnecessarily aggressive in collecting bills that are not yet overripe. The current economy is hard on everyone; so, give your clients time to gather resources to apply to their obligations, before applying the strictest measures. At least in the first instance, emulate George Bailey, not Mr. Potter. If you don’t burn bridges with late (but not defaulting) clients, you may also save future referrals.
If you really think about it, this is the short list. After all, every client and pre-client engagement could be whipped up into a high pressure sales pitch. Of course, if you were to view that as actually the case, you may never have the courage to get up out of your chair ever again. Certainly, some of this is just going to flow; but, it can flow more smoothly with the prefix ‘work-‘ attached. Developing workflows, task rosters and checklists will improve your abilities surrounding customer service. Schedule follow-up with active clients every six weeks. Build an effective document drafting platform. Create a billing infrastructure. If you systematize the methods you apply to your client interactions, you’ll allow yourself time and space to become your most charming self.
. . .
Last week, it was ‘Back to the Future’ Day. October 21, 2015 was the date Doc and Marty traveled forward in time to in ‘Back to the Future: Part II’. (Sorry, Cubs fans: another false hope.) Now, I’m not one of these posers who only cares about the ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy one day out of the millennium. Those movies were central to the fabric of my childhood: I was 7 when the first movie came out, and 12 when the last one was released; that’s pretty much the sweet spot right there. I have the Trilogy on DVD, and watch it everytime it’s on TV.
But, you know what doesn’t get enough love: ‘Back to the Future: Part III’. That’s the one where they go back to the Old West, to 1885. In my opinion ‘Back to the Future 3’ is just a tick below the original, and a massive improvement over the second installment of the series, where Zemeckis tried to get too cute.
It had good music, too, especially:
That is the jaaam.
(Okay, okay: here’s the official version.)