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Client Relations

When You Lose a Client

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

It happens to every lawyer from time to time. A good, longtime client — or so you thought — suddenly drops the relationship and seeks counsel elsewhere. Or, perhaps you compete for a new client and you’re not selected. It can happen for a number of reasons. Many of them are things over which you have control. Some of them are not. But regardless, what you do with that disappointment is the most important thing.

While it’s tempting to heave a pathetic sigh and just turn the other cheek, your job isn’t really done here until you check off a few things.

  1. Relocate your objectivity. No, this isn’t easy. You’re angry or hurt or feel betrayed. It’s natural. You may need to vent your feelings with a coworker, go for a punishing run or even wait for a couple of days to pass.
  2. Find out why they left. This will take some courage, but it’s important for you to find out what went wrong. (And remember, the news may not necessarily be bad.) Collect your thoughts and then place a phone call. Probe as deeply as you can because their first responses will probably just be meant to deflect. They don’t want to have this conversation, either. Listen hard and resist every temptation to defend or argue. Thank them for their time and honesty. You’ll most likely have the option, at this point, of trying to win back their business if you choose.
  3. Get an outside perspective. Discuss the situation with a colleague or friend. Be as honest as you can—this isn’t an opportunity to get sympathy—and ask for the bitter truth in return. Ask what they might have done in your shoes and what they recommend you do next.
  4. Reflect on lessons learned. Think through what you have learned from the former client and the perspective you gained from the third party. Observe your own reactions and revisit the facts of the situation. Is there anything you could have done differently? Are there systems you could put into place to ensure this doesn’t happen again? Actions that need to be taken?
  5. Take steps to prevent a recurrence. Whatever it is, make it happen now while you have the conviction. It could be something as simple as instituting a new proofreading rule or as difficult as changing some of your own behaviors.

Whatever steps you decide to take, it will be far easier than either losing more clients or going through this list of painful steps again!

Categories: Client Service, Communications Skills, Relationships
Originally published March 3, 2011
Last updated May 25, 2020
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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is 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. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. 

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