Ever open up your webcam and hear someone say, “Yikes! What is THAT?” when the camera captures a side of your office you rarely notice? It’s not your bobblehead collection. It’s that sloppy stack of papers threatening to topple and crush innocent passersby. Sure, you could adjust the camera angle … but maybe you should pull your head out of the computer and take a good look around at your entire office space.
Like what you see? What does it tell clients about you? First impressions color the entire lawyer-client relationship. So let’s talk law practice curb appeal.
1. A fresh eye. The path you beat from home to your office chair is so automatic you stop seeing what’s really there, unless the change is monumental. Even if you’re vigilant about office presentation, things can slip. So, every few month or so, do this little exercise: Put yourself in the client’s shoes and walk through the physical process of locating your law firm and arriving for a first meeting. Check your website’s contact information, find driving directions online (more about that later), then park in the visitor’s parking, read the signage through all public spaces, and enter your firm. Sit in the visitor’s lounge and in your own office’s guest chair. What do you see? What don’t you see? How does it feel? How does it smell? How’s the WiFi? The coffee? Now ask a friend who’s never visited you to do the same. Ask lots of questions and take notes!
2. Weeding the files. You’ve heard the stories about firms with boxes of files piled high all over their office. We’re not saying that’s you, but most of us have piles of stuff we keep moving from desk to chair to floor to desk. Why not schedule an occasional day or weekend for housekeeping and get everybody to pitch in and toss the things you no longer need? While you’re at it, take some notes on what you can do to avoid getting into this mess again. Different systems? Different habits? Why bother, you say? Because poor office housekeeping habits say something about your professionalism, says ALPS’ Mark Bassingthwaighte. Sloppy filing can lead to missed deadlines and disciplinary headaches. Check your firm’s document storage policy (or with your state bar or insurance provider) for timetables on when it’s safe to shred closed client files. (The Law Society of Upper Canada has an excellent guide, here.) Don’t have a policy for what to do with closed files? Best get on that!
3. Clear the virtual entryways, too. When it comes to your online image, things change too fast to “set it and forget it.” The front door (your core website) may be pristine, but check for cobwebs around the other virtual entrances to your firm: entries in branded networks, lawyer review sites, bar association listings and social media profiles—especially Google+. (You have created your Google+ page, right? Gyi Tsakalakis shows how here.) Make sure your contact information stays up to date, and consistent, in all locations. It’s good for your image and will help your Google search rankings.
While updating your online profiles, be vigilant about adjusting privacy settings so you know exactly what, and with whom, you are sharing. Pay close attention to your apps, too. (National magazine does a nice job explaining the perils of “frictionless sharing” here.) Bottom line: All your efforts to polish your image are for naught if the apps you download are sharing goofy links with your social media connections.
4. A new coat. You may not be able to change your basic office design or afford new furniture, but an infusion of color can be a fast, budget-friendly way to rejuvenate your space. Color is also a powerful way to change the way you feel and how you are perceived. “Professional” doesn’t have to mean dull and drab, especially if you work in a home office or less-traditional space. Depending on your image and clients, adding color can add personality and flair, or create a sense of serenity. Color can be tricky, sure, and what’s fresh today can become outdated quickly. (Would you prefer Don Draper’s or Roger Sterling’s office today?) Today’s colors are trending away from bold toward muted, natural shades. But all it takes to fix a mistake is another can of paint.
When it comes to color, don’t stop with the office walls. Subtle adjustments to your branding (logo and identity, website color scheme) can help keep you relevant. The new book Drunk Tank Pink: The Power of Color in Marketing is a fascinating look into the way color affects buying decisions, along with this Fast Company piece on the science behind colors, and this color psychology infographic by Kissmetrics.
Speaking of color, let’s talk hair. Your online curb appeal is only as good as your photo. Make it current. (You want clients to be able to recognize you when they meet you in person, right?) Today’s phones take some amazing pictures, but this is your professional image, not your lunch! If you are self-conscious, hire a professional and even a stylist to help capture your best self. Take a look at these examples. See, it’s worth it.
5. A little privacy, please. OK, back to reality. Your guests are going to want to freshen up at some point. If your office washrooms are disgusting, that reflects on you. If you share a public washroom in your building with other tenants, that’s no excuse. If there’s a problem, get it fixed. Point is, you need to think through, and walk through, the total client experience if you want to keep clients happy. So keep it clean!
Attorney at Work’s Joan Feldman is an editor and writer and a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. Follow her @JoanHFeldman.