You know how important it is to provide excellent, caring law firm client service — you’re under relentless pressure to do so. After all, clients may not be able to judge your legal skills, but they sure can judge how quickly you return their calls. Indeed, the number of ways to get client care wrong is alarming.
Table of contents
- How Do You Express Appreciation for Your Clients?
- Megan Zavieh: The Gift of Less Stress
- Jamie Spannhake: Show Up!
- Mark C. Palmer: Seek Client Feedback — and Act
- Bull Garlington: Send a Handwritten Card
- Susan Kostal: It’s Hard to Beat Empathy
- Steve Nelson: Power of the Press, and a Personal Note
- Ruth Carter: Think Outside the Candy Box
- Jay Harrington: Provide Value That’s Not “On the Clock”
- Teddy Snyder: Unexpected Gifts
- Will Hornsby: Show Disciplinary Counsel You Care
- Joan Feldman: Accept the Call
Still, no matter how hard you try, in the everyday hustle, it’s easy to overlook the niceties. So, we asked some of the smartest (and nicest) people we know — Attorney at Work’s columnists — for ways to show clients your gratitude and appreciation.
How Do You Express Appreciation for Your Clients?
Here are some inspiring ideas from Ruth Carter, Bull Garlington, Jay Harrington, Will Hornsby, Susan Kostal, Steve Nelson, Mark Palmer, Teddy Snyder, Jamie Spannhake and Megan Zavieh. (Be sure to scroll to the end for a few of our best client service articles.)
Megan Zavieh: The Gift of Less Stress
We send new clients a lavender oil roller bottle. They are all under tremendous stress, and it shows we are thinking of where they are and what they are experiencing. We get a lot of positive feedback for this!
Megan Zavieh (@ZaviehLaw) focuses her practice exclusively on attorney ethics, providing representation to attorneys facing disciplinary action and guidance on questions of legal ethics. She writes Attorney at Work’s “On Balance” column.
Jamie Spannhake: Show Up!
In this age of working via email and phone, clients really appreciate it when our team visits their space. Most clients work diligently to create a business culture they like. Experiencing it connects you with them on a new level.
Jamie J. Spannhake (@IdealYear) is a lawyer, mediator and health coach. She writes on wellness and self-care for Attorney at Work and is the author of “The Lawyer, the Lion, and the Laundry: Three Hours to Finding Your Calm in the Chaos.“
Mark C. Palmer: Seek Client Feedback — and Act
I’m not talking about just a “So, how’d we do?” but a programmatic system to effectively collect data for evaluation and improvement of law firm client service. Measure your whole team (not just the lawyers) and entire client experience. Then, take action on the feedback. Clients will notice … and return.
Mark C. Palmer (@palmerlaw) serves as Chief Counsel under the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism to facilitate the promotion of professionalism, civility and integrity among our lawyers and judges. Mark writes the “Ask the Experts from 2Civility.org” column for Attorney at Work.
Bull Garlington: Send a Handwritten Card
A handwritten card is effective. It’s classy. It’s tactile. Use your best stationery. Write carefully with your best pen. Don’t overthink it. This isn’t a love note; it’s a shoutout. Skip hacky opening lines like “Just thinking of you” or “Wanted to say hi.” Be specific. Like, if you are an editor writing to your favorite, cherished and most-award-winning columnist, you might pen “Your sentences make my day.” Try it. (Ahem.)
Bull Garlington (@Bull_Garlington) is an award-winning author, columnist and public speaker. He created and writes the “Analog Attorney” column for Attorney at Work.
Susan Kostal: It’s Hard to Beat Empathy
Sometimes empathy is expressed through active listening and asking just the right question that shows the client you truly understand their situation. And sometimes it’s just acknowledging their angst or frustration. Recently, I did some work for a client and, despite our best efforts, the project was not a roaring success. I let the client know that I shared her disappointment. This was the answer I received in return:
“One of the many things I appreciate about working with you is that you do care. I know that might sound odd, but it’s a rare quality in a marketing person, in my experience, and it’s one that I value a lot. I just wanted you to know.”
Steve Nelson: Power of the Press, and a Personal Note
As a former journalist, I am a news junkie, and I am always on top of the articles in the legal press. If I see something that either mentions my client or is an issue I think is particularly relevant to them, I send a personal note along with the article. (This is entirely separate from the articles we write that we send to a broad group of clients and other contacts.) I realize that this is a pretty basic business development strategy, but I am finding that very few of my clients are receiving similar outreaches.
Steve Nelson (@SKNLegal) is an executive principal at The McCormick Group, an executive search firm based in Arlington, Va. Steve writes on talent management and hiring trends for Attorney at Work.
Ruth Carter: Think Outside the Candy Box
The best gift I ever received from a client was a donation to my local farm animal sanctuary. They knew that flowers, sweets or a Starbucks gift card would do nothing for me.
Ruth Carter (@rbcarter) — lawyer, writer and speaker —writes “Nothing But the Ruth” for Attorney at Work. Ruth is Of Counsel with Venjuris, focusing on intellectual property, business, internet and flash mob law, and recently launched an online course, Lights Camera Lawsuit: The Legal Side of Professional Photography.
Jay Harrington: Provide Value That’s Not “On the Clock”
Law firm client service can be giving your clients the gift of thought leadership. A trusted advisor, a moniker that all lawyers aspire to, is a thought leader who makes their clients smarter, better informed, and ready for what’s next during periods between engagements, not only during them.
Jay Harrington (@harringj75) is the owner of Harrington Communications and the author of “The Essential Associate” and “One of a Kind: A Proven Path to a Profitable Practice.” He writes the “One of a Kind” column and podcasts at The Thought Leadership Project.
Teddy Snyder: Unexpected Gifts
Receiving a gift from a client is always special as it is so unexpected. I’m usually happy just to have my bills paid.
I received the most memorable gift from a client more than 30 years ago. I represented the Dalai Lama Charitable Trust. The Dalai Lama’s adherents hand-weave rugs that are sold all over the world, or at least they did then. Hard to believe, but one of the rug merchants in my city tried to stiff the Dalai Lama. I was hired to collect the amount due on the unpaid invoice.
No, I did not communicate with the Dali Lama. I was hired by an attorney in India. When that attorney came to the United States on business, he came to my office to meet me in person where he gave me a beautiful silk scarf from India.
Need I say I achieved a successful result? However, the good and bad news is that this was a one-off. They never needed my services again.
Theda “Teddy” Snyder (@WCMediator) mediates civil disputes, workplace injury and workers’ compensation cases throughout California. She writes the “Get to the Point!” column for Attorney at Work and is the author of four ABA books.
Will Hornsby: Show Disciplinary Counsel You Care
If you are a lawyer who gets an inquiry into a disciplinary matter, recognize that the vast majority of inquiries are based on client complaints and frequently lack merit for further action. Think about hiring counsel to represent you, but if you decide to proceed on your own, respond promptly, factually, and with grace and dignity. Remember that the disciplinary counsels are simply doing their jobs. They deserve your respect and professional decorum.
Will Hornsby (@WillHornsby) is an attorney and adjunct professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, where he teaches the professional responsibility of innovative and tech-based legal services. After serving as staff counsel in the ABA’s Division for Legal Services for 30 years, Will now champions access to legal services through his law firm at www.willhornsbylaw.com. He writes on ethics issues for Attorney at Work.
Joan Feldman: Accept the Call
A few years ago, I found myself sitting in a hotel lobby, choking down a stale bagel and unsuccessfully trying to avoid a panic attack. I was getting ready for a big meeting and drawing a blank. Terms, names, faces — nothing was there — and I needed help. So I took a chance and called my lawyer. The last thing I expected was for this very busy guy to answer or call me back. In a few minutes, though, the phone rang and help was there. Hearing the distress in my voice as I asked him to repeat his advice … yet again … he patiently said: “Do you have a pen? Good. Now write these three questions down … this is all you need to remember.”
It doesn’t seem like much, but it was exactly what I needed. He was calm and direct. He didn’t tell me to relax or waste my time with platitudes. He was not condescending. And in less than 10 minutes he was able to get my head where it needed to be. I don’t even remember much about the meeting that followed, but I’ll always remember that lawyer.
Until you wear your clients’ shoes it can be hard to grasp how much accepting or returning a simple phone call can mean.
So, yes, set boundaries in your communications with clients. Explain your policies. Don’t give out your personal cell. But be human, too: Return calls promptly. Listen hard. Take the extra steps to show your clients that — in addition to being an excellent lawyer — you really do care.
Joan Feldman (@JoanHFeldman) is editor-in-chief at Attorney at Work and Trustee with the College of Law Practice Management.
More Smart Client Service Tips:
- Here are some truly sweet ideas for telling clients you care, from Gerry Riskin, Matt Homann, Jordan Furlong, Wendy Werner, Mike O’Horo and Ann Lee Gibson
- In “They Had Relations,” Jared Correia explains five very specific client communications strategies.
- The service you provide is every bit as important as the services you provide, says Sally Schmidt. Read more good advice in her column, “Walking in Your Client’s Shoes.“
- Here’s a reminder of the simple little things you can do to send your client the message, “Go away!” Merrilyn Astin Tarlton explains “How to Show Clients You Don’t Really Care!”
- Need more love in your life? Check out Christy Cassisa’s thoughtful series on “Making the Case for Love in the Law Firm.”
- And, finally, Ruth Carter sends special people cards and gifts outside the traditional holidays, because “You Don’t Need a Holiday to Show Clients Some Love.”