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Earning a Client’s Trust: What It Takes

By Sally J. Schmidt

I conduct a lot of client surveys and am happy to report that most clients are quite satisfied with their law firms. The topics clients attribute to a positive evaluation most frequently include responsiveness, accessibility, expertise, results and cost-consciousness or efficiency (i.e., providing value).

But there is one factor that is usually raised by only the most loyal and long-standing clients: trust. And, when it is raised, it is often the most important criterion for the client.

What Clients Say

Here are some representative quotes from recent client interviews on the subject:

  • “A lot of firms would love to get some of our business. We go where the expertise is and where we have implicit trust. If [lawyer] told me anything, I’d take it to the bank.”
  • “The level of care all the way through the organization is exactly what it should be. They are a trusted partner of ours.”
  • “I’ve trusted [lawyer] so much, I sent my family members to him. That’s how much I trust him.”
  • “I’ve known [lawyer] for a very long time. I have the utmost trust and respect in him and his opinions.”
  • “I trust him to do what’s in my best interest.”

If you can earn a client’s trust, you will turn a happy client into a lifelong client.

Earning Trust

What does it take to earn a client’s trust? Here are a couple of illustrative actions:

  • Tell clients they are better off not pursuing a legal matter. Clients recount examples like a matter that would cost $150,000 to recover $175,000. As one explained, “[Lawyer] said to me, ‘We can do that but do we really want to? In the end, the only people who will make money are me and the other attorney.’”
  • Tell clients things they don’t necessarily want to hear. Clients appreciate when a lawyer is honest about the situation and gives an objective view. Said one, “We have a high level of trust that they will act in our best interest. A lot of times that means being upfront — not always telling you what you want to hear but telling you what you need to hear.”

Other ways to earn a client’s trust include:

  • Telling the client that you or your firm can’t handle something and offering to help them find another resource or professional.
  • Owning up to your mistakes (e.g., overruns or unnecessary work).
  • Rigorously keeping the client’s confidences.
  • Praising the work of another law firm.
  • Advising clients proactively of things they could be doing more efficiently in-house.

A client’s trust needs to be earned. Once you do that, the result will not just be a happy client, it will be a client for life.

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Categories: Business Development, Law Firm Marketing, Legal Marketing Play to Win
Originally published March 19, 2020
Last updated July 7, 2020
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Sally J. Schmidt Sally J. Schmidt

Sally Schmidt, President of Schmidt Marketing, Inc., helps lawyers and law firms grow their practices. She was a founder and the first President of the Legal Marketing Association, is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and was one of the first inductees to LMA’s Hall of Fame. Known for her practical advice, she is the author of two books, “Marketing the Law Firm: Business Development Techniques” and “Business Development for Lawyers: Strategies for Getting and Keeping Clients.” Follow her @SallySchmidt.

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