Giving value to your clients

It should be the goal of every law firm to deliver exceptional client service. Just as good food and good atmosphere are part of what make good restaurants, exceptional client service makes good law firms. In addition to providing sound legal advice, three areas in which law firms can enhance their services include providing a comfortable and professional office, a quality initial consultation, and personalizing the services being offered.
A comfortable atmosphere

First impressions can positively impact your client’s perception of the quality of your firm’s service. Often, first impressions start in your reception area. Here are some easily implemented suggestions that can make a difference between a mediocre presentation and one that reflects the value of service your law firm strives to provide.

1.    Ensure your reception area is clean. If you were to walk into a restaurant, what standard of cleanliness would you expect? Since you see your reception area every day, you may not be aware some of the finer details a first-time client will notice.

2.    Ensure the reception desk is neat and organized in such a way that protects client confidentiality. At no time should files be left at the desk unattended or exposed in a manner that might reveal confidential information including your clients’ names.

3.    Offer your clients coffee or refreshments when they enter your office. This is part of what clients have come to expect from professional offices and it will make them feel comfortable.

4.    Minimize wait times, particularly for prescheduled appointments.

5.    Remember your clients may not take the same interest in legal journals as you. Likewise they may not share your passion for fishing. In other words, have a variety of recent reading materials on subscription for your clients to read while waiting the few minutes to see you.

6.    The finer details of your reception area can also make a difference. These may include fresh flowers, healthy plants, a well-maintained aquarium, and soft easy listening music.

A quality initial consultation

I believe in providing a quality initial consultation. Although this is a standard service across many law firms, it is tempting to cut corners on an initial consultation as it requires time and sometimes may not result in a new client.

In my Canadian Lawyer article, “To charge or not to charge — a consultation fee,” I wrote that a quality initial consultation is an opportunity for the client to ask questions and get a professional legal opinion about the merits of his or her case. By advising the client during the consultation, the lawyer is working and providing a valuable service. Taking the time to provide a quality initial consultation will set the tone for the rest of the solicitor-client relationship. It may also lead to future referrals.

Personalizing each service

Personalizing client services requires you understand your client’s needs and objectives. To do this effectively, you need to understand your client’s interests and what he or she is trying to achieve by retaining your services. Personalizing the service can certainly make the difference between a mediocre and exceptional lawyer-client experience.  Here are three strategies to help you personalize client services:

1.    Assign a particular assistant or clerk to work on your client’s file and let your client know this person will be primary assistant working on the file. The benefit to you is your assistant takes on a sense of ownership to the file and provides another source of reflection to help you identify your client’s needs. The other benefit to you is your assistant will be in a better position to help remind you of important aspects of your client’s file, including timelines that may have slipped your radar. From the clients’ perspective, they have another source of familiar contact with your firm should you be unavailable.

2.    Always remain objective and realistic while at the same time being empathetic to your client’s cause. Never overstate your client’s case. If your clients have unrealistic expectations, educate them by helping them understand why their legal position may be without merit and what the risks are of proceeding down their desired path. Of course, documenting your opinion and suggestion is very important particularly when your client is refusing to follow your advice.

3.    Nurture relationships with other lawyers outside of your practice area so if a client comes to you for advice about an area that you are unfamiliar with, you are able to refer them to a trustworthy and reliable lawyer who can assist. This shows your client you are well connected within your legal community and you are never a dead end for legal information.

Clients have high expectations for quality service. If you provide added value your clients may not have expected, yet appreciate, they will recommend your firm to others and return to your firm in the future.

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