The Welcome Mat
First Client Meeting: Is Yours a Welcoming Law Office?
Does your practice project a welcoming image — or are you sending a different message to prospective clients? In his “Welcome Mat” series, Oklahoma attorney Noble McIntyre offers tips on creating a welcoming law office — from telephone etiquette to office design to the people on the front line. Below: Some dos and don’ts for reception areas and conference rooms.
So you’ve had a promising initial phone call with your prospective client. Chances are your next interaction will be a meeting at your law office. Look around. Does your firm’s physical environment reinforce your brand and convey the identity you want it to?
For example, is your firm large and growing? Small and planning to stay that way? Your reception area and conference room will set the tone for how clients perceive your practice, especially at that first meeting. For example, if you’re a small or solo practice focused on individuals and family matters, you may like the idea of a comfortable atmosphere where clients can feel at home and at ease. Soft chairs, a vase of flowers, a table with coffee and tea in the reception area — these kinds of things convey a sense of warmth that can put your clients at ease.
Keep in mind that for most clients, the overall experience of working with a firm determines how they judge the legal services rendered. Your clients want, more than anything, for you to be approachable. They want to be treated with respect and dignity. Your receptionist should greet the client graciously. Warmly. Offer to take his coat, or politely show him where he can hang it, and also offer coffee, tea or water. Clients should also be told, as realistically as possible, how long they will need to wait for the attorney they are there to see.
What Does Your Office Design Say About Your Firm?
Consciously or otherwise, the moment clients step through the door, they’re evaluating the subtleties of your office decor. For most practices, especially smaller ones, you need to carefully walk the line between looking successful, but not too successful. Certainly, you want to project the firm’s financial health and stability. Clients want to see that their lawyer is doing well financially — if it doesn’t look that way, they will wonder why. And you don’t want them to assume you aren’t doing well for your current clients, or that the firm may not be around for the duration of their case. So, whether your decor is homey or cutting-edge, it’s important that your public areas and furnishings are clean and well maintained, with extra “touches” in your decor that indicate the office is more than a bare-bones box where attorneys are at work.
After leaving the reception area, the conference room is likely the next stop for that prospective client. Do you have a giant television set? A fancy espresso machine? If you’re a large firm with mainly corporate clients, that’s probably expected. But if you’re a smaller firm that caters to individuals rather than corporations, those things can set off warning bells, reminding clients of those jokes about ambulance-chasing attorneys who will stop at nothing to make a buck. You probably don’t want someone who’s been injured in an accident, or suffered employment discrimination or who is dealing with an ugly divorce, to think that you’re living extravagantly at their expense. What you want — what will help your firm’s reputation and future success — is for clients to see that the fee they are paying is fair for the services being rendered.
That being said, you do want your conference room to have up-to-date technology — a projector, a screen or TV and a laptop, for example — all the things important to doing your job with respect to communicating with opposing counsel and clients, or keeping up with current legal trends and education. And you do want your clients to be comfortable. So keep your conference table and chairs clean and well-kept. A mid-range coffee brewer or Keurig-style machine will send the right message, too, along with a fresh pitcher of water and clean cups.
Remember, if your client perceives that you spend the firm’s money frivolously — true or not — she’ll leap to the assumption that you will spend her money frivolously. What you see as indicia of success could actually appear showy and unnecessary to the people you want to welcome into your practice.
In the next post, we’ll talk about the impressions being made by the people on your team.
Noble McIntyre is the senior partner and owner of McIntyre Law. The Oklahoma City-based personal injury firm is focused on making the community safer, and has been very involved in charity work over the last few years. You can connect with him at @NobleMcIntyre, @McIntyreLaw, on Facebook and Google+.