It’s not always easy to convince lawyers that they should care more about client service. Too many genuinely believe their legal expertise is paramount—the only thing that truly matters when establishing their law practice’s reputation. But lawyers should not underestimate the impact of how they treat their clients: It’s the only part of the lawyer-client experience that we can control, and the only thing that can be accurately evaluated and appreciated by any client.
Let’s break down what clients can evaluate, and what lawyers can (or can’t) control, in terms of three things: results, outputs and client service.
Everyone knows what results are. In litigation, you either win or you lose. In transactions, the deal closes or it doesn’t. How much control do we really have over the results of the matters we work on for clients? Truthfully, lawyers don’t have much control, especially in litigation. Many are highly skilled advocates. However, most advocates recognize that “the facts” and “the law” will always trump superior advocacy.
Can clients evaluate results? Yes. Clients can evaluate, but lawyers have little control.
Outputs are the tangible products lawyers create—litigators create briefs and discovery requests, transactional attorneys create contracts and other documents. How much control do lawyers have over their work product? Litigators and transactional attorneys alike have considerable control. But are clients—even in-house counsel—sophisticated enough to intelligently evaluate the output in either setting? I think not.
Surely, you might think, most clients can tell a good brief from a bad one—especially the more sophisticated ones. I’m not so sure. I served as in-house for a number of years and managed litigation matters. Now, I certainly could tell the difference between a horrible brief and a good one. But in reality, all the lawyers I hired could provide me with a respectable brief. They needed that skill to survive at their law firms. Were some briefs more respectable than others? Yes. But that was only my opinion. I’m sure other lawyers might disagree with me.
As a practical matter, I rarely had the time to carefully review briefs. At the rates being charged, I thought the lawyer better know how to write a decent brief. That should help you understand why clients are rarely, if ever, “wowed” by the output of a litigator and there is little-to-no consensus about what constitutes a stellar work product. Even if there were, most clients don’t have the time to make that assessment.
The same applies to the outputs of transactional lawyers. Are contract-type outputs evaluated any differently from litigator outputs? I have no reason to think so. Most get a cursory review at best. When was the last time a client said to you, “Section 14, Indemnification, was the best indemnification clause I have ever seen!”
In the area of outputs, lawyers have lots of control. Unfortunately, clients have scant ability or desire to evaluate that output.
By comparison—and this is why client service is so important—attorneys have complete control over the way they treat their clients. And both unsophisticated and sophisticated clients can evaluate the quality of client service. It doesn’t matter whether they dropped out of high school or earned a Ph.D., they absolutely know if they are happy or not.
So focus on client service. It’s the one area where you can control the likelihood of the client returning or making a referral.
Roy S. Ginsburg is an attorney coach who works one-to-one in the areas of business development, practice management and career development. He has practiced law for more than 25 years in large to small firms and in a corporate setting. He is currently an active solo with a part-time practice in legal marketing ethics and employment law. Learn more at www.royginsburg.com.