How Clients Choose Their Attorney, And How Your Firm Stays In The Running

Sometimes it’s shocking when a prospective client chooses the competition over your own firm. Attorneys always feel their firm is better suited and their associates more qualified than “the other guy.” 

So what goes into a client’s decision to choose an attorney?

An article in the California Trust, Estate & Probate Litigation blog titled, “Love Thy Lawyer: How to Find the Right Fit in the Lawyer-Client Relationship,” by Keith A. Davidson, discusses just that, from the prospective client perspective.

From that article, law firms can better understand what types of behavior or attitude on the part of a lawyer sends a person running for the door. Pay attention to the following four client priorities and benefit from higher client retention rates.

Expectations: Lawyers have a certain expectation as to how the client should act, and clients have their expectations on how lawyers should behave. As with any relationship, having appropriate expectations is key for all concerned.

“So lawyers need to help clients have proper expectations about their case… But lawyers aren’t always good at setting expectations. We are familiar with the slow legal system so a case that takes two to three years to resolve is normal to us; whereas an uninitiated client may find that amount of time outrageous.

“And clients, in turn, need to face up to the reality that the wheels of justice turn slowly. Your case is no exception. While the advent of email, smart phones, and Facebook may let you operate in many ways at light speed, our judicial system doesn’t work that way.”

The first priority is about time and communication expectations. As a lawyer, it is to your firm’s detriment to exaggerate time expectations.

Do not tell a client their case is a slam dunk, and you expect a quick turnaround. Clients well-versed in the law (or even simply those who have read the above article) will realize your statement is part of a scam. And it is, because what lawyer can really guarantee a time frame in today’s legal system? 

At the same time, learn that clients expect adequate and timely communication about their case. Clients want justification for how their money is being spent. So maintain constant communication with your client. This is where legal blogs, twitter, and facebook can be an asset. Post links to media articles on the case and generally keep your client informed to progress via social media.

When it’s a race between your technology-savvy firm and a potential rival, clients appreciate hardworking attorneys who keep in touch.

Personality: Not every lawyer is right for every client (and vice versa). You need to feel that your lawyer has your best interest at heart and will take your cause on as his or her own. Different people have different ways of showing their dedication to your cause. And different people have different ways to give and receive information.

“Finding the right personality fit, someone you are comfortable with is vitally important. You’re stuck with your case for the long haul, so you should be comfortable with your lawyer.”

The second priority concerns personality. When meeting with a prospective client, do your research about his or her likes and dislikes. If a spouse is vegetarian, obviously the firm should steer clear of the neighborhood steakhouse.

Also, be cognizant of verbal cues and body behavior. If you see that your client feels uncomfortable with a member of your team, adjust. Reshuffle even. In the end, like all service industries, law firms cater to the customer. If he or she is unhappy, there is plenty of choice and competition around the corner.

Follow-through: Lawyers don’t have the best reputations when it comes to consistent follow-through on cases. Most lawyers have more than one case in their office, so it can be difficult to give individual attention to each case, especially since multiple cases can flare up at the same time. But it is the lawyer’s job to manage his or her case load so that each client receives appropriate attention at the appropriate time.”

This third priority goes back to adequate communication. Manage your client’s expectations with a list. Suggest a weekly or monthly status report, and then send it on time. If expectations are set in writing, attorneys on the case will be able to successfully manage follow-through, and clients will be less likely to be caught by surprise.

Results: Wouldn’t it be great if you could hire a lawyer for a guaranteed win in your case? That would be one expensive lawyer (even more expensive than the typical lawyer). The truth is you can never hire an attorney to guarantee a win on your case. And any lawyer who says he or she never lost a case (especially never lost a trial) hasn’t tried very many cases—if any at all.

“The lawyer’s job is to fight hard, write well, and argue persuasively for your cause. If you receive this type of representation, then you have a good result.”

Finally, there’s always a risk of a negative result. It’s important to prepare your client for this possibility, and discuss with them your plans for appeal (if any). While some cards should be held close to the chest, others, such as aspects of your legal strategy, should be shared with your client. Walk them through the work involved to prove their case. By consenting to your legal strategy, a client also shares in the responsibility of its outcome.

If your firm is confident the case will win, prove it to your client by collecting contingency fees. Otherwise, keep them comfortable with the above tips. Client retention is as simple as honesty, communication, and realistically managing expectations.

-WB

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