Five Roadblocks That Can Repel a Good Client

By | Jun.28.13 | Business Development, Client Service, Daily Dispatch, The Friday Five

Recently, I needed a lawyer while out of state. I knew enough to know the law was different there — and that I was definitely going to need some expert advice. I also know more than a few things about how to find and engage a good lawyer. I thought the process would be quick and easy. I was wrong. Before the drama was over, this Friday Five was writing itself.

So often at Attorney at Work, we address issues from inside the lawyer’s office looking out. Today, instead, I offer five real-life examples of how to lose potential business from the perspective of the client looking in. There are at least five lessons to be learned here.

  1. Don’t bother to answer your phone. It seemed simple. The issue in question related to my parents’ wills and probate. The most logical starting point — and surely the ending point? — was the lawyer who wrote and signed their health-care directives and assignments of power of attorney. She was an excellent lawyer. I’d been assured of that when I’d located her a decade earlier via a gracious lawyer friend. I called. It was 1:30 p.m. on a weekday. My call automatically dumped into a voice-mail system and the anonymous greeting asked for a “complete message including the spelling of your name and return phone number.” Okay, I could do that … and I did.
  2. Go ahead and assume. Twenty-four hours later, the lawyer’s paralegal called back to say, “I’ve reviewed the file you mentioned in your message with Ms. Attorney and she recommends you call the county bar association’s lawyer referral line. Here’s the phone number ….” Hmmm. Had they mistaken me for an indigent? (I’m not.) Did they assume I’d be a difficult client? (I wouldn’t have.) Did they assume it wasn’t worth their time? You know what they say about assumptions.
  3. Make ’em really work to get to youI shrugged off the brush-off and moved on to the county bar. Call number one? Endless unanswered ringing. Call number two was answered by someone who immediately said she couldn’t talk with me right then because she was “talking to a LAWYER.” It sounded as if the emperor was on the other line. (Really?) She asked if I’d call her back. Okay, sure. Why would I expect her to call me back?
  4. Have ’em wait days for an appointment. Later, when I called again and she was able to talk, it seemed like things were looking up. I was then required to answer a lot of questions and describe my legal problem in minute detail (including names and dates) before being told that she would research available lawyers and call me back with the names of three potential matches. Which she did — the following day. Once I’d told her which one I would like, she needed to call me back again with three possible meeting times for my selection. Three days later, I had an appointment — for three days after that.
  5. Always keep them guessing. We really liked the “lawyer” we ended up with. She was very helpful, answered a lot of puzzling questions easily, and quickly handled a couple of simple filings for us. It was only after we left her office that we glanced at her business card. “Law Clerk” it said. Curious, I checked her firm’s website and ultimately Googled further to learn that she is the solo firm’s paralegal. We still hadn’t met a lawyer.

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is Partner/Catalyst at Attorney at Work, a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Follow her on Twitter @astintarlton. 

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5 Responses to “Five Roadblocks That Can Repel a Good Client”

  1. Bill Wilson
    28 June 2013 at 8:07 am #

    Holy cow, this was a little uncomfortable to read as I saw myself doing some of the things mentioned here on occasion. Thanks for the whack on the side of the head!

  2. Mazyar Hedayat
    28 June 2013 at 9:10 am #

    These are great points and I agree with all of them. But to really put current market conditions into perspective, the video below from Avvo-ignite identifies 5 minutes as the critical period for follow up! 5 Minutes? I don’t know about you, but that’s all but impossible sometimes. But it’s one more indicator that lawyers have become as fungible as pest-control and lawn-cutting services.

    Here’s the video:

  3. joseph kely levsseur
    29 June 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    I’ll tell yah, this one hurts. I try to be there for my clients, but I don’t like giving them my cell phone because they call me when I’m with my children or at home on weekends. I try to get back to them, but I’m in court, and as a solo practioner, it’s tough to be there on demand, but your points are well taken and I will have to just figure it out. Funny thing is, if I get an email from a client, I can get back to them much quicker and it’s much fatser and cheaper for them too.

  4. Nicole
    1 July 2013 at 11:41 am #

    I have a few theories – based purely on speculation – about what might have happened here.

    Regarding pt. no. 2 – sounds like someone who is retired or semi-retired, but doesn’t want to say so.

    Pts 3 and 4 seem to be more about a bad bar referral process than bad lawyer marketing. Except for the part about it taking three days to get an appointment.

    P. 5 – makes me wonder if the “law clerk” is really a lawyer admitted to practice elsewhere. Yes, there are paralegals who are more competent than some attorneys, but the situation you describe sounds like someone thinks of herself as an actual lawyer. This can happen when an experienced lawyer practices in another jurisdiction where he or she is not admitted. Not defending it, just observing.

  5. Sarah Charton
    26 August 2013 at 9:18 am #

    I found myself nodding along. This list is right on target, and it’s shocking how many attorneys, including those who work for decent-sized firms, think they don’t have to make an effort to court the client.

    I think the key to avoiding this type of situation hinges on the recipients’ efforts to manage expectations. For example, any of the people the author called could have included an instruction in their outgoing phone messages asking the caller to contact them via email and providing a time frame in which to expect a response, which could have avoided voicemail purgatory and made the caller feel less disrespected. Our firm actually provides all new attorneys with a manual for hanlding files, which includes a four-hour window for responding to voicemails as well as instructions on setting outgoing messages so that if the first attorney called is not reachable by phone at that time, the caller is given the options of other attorneys to speak to as well as leaving a message for the first recipient.