They don’t know what they don’t know. Maybe they just need to learn how lawyers charge for their services—and why.
Is there ever just a single way to do something? It may seem that way if it’s the way things have been done since anybody can remember, but seldom are you required to keep on doing it in the same fashion.
This is particularly true if you discover that it’s just not in the best interest of your customers. As long as anybody can remember, law firms have billed clients using the format of the billable hour. There was no a la carte ordering possible. It was like going to a fast food franchise. Sorry, no substitutions allowed. You can have whatever you want, as long as it’s up on the menu board. That works fine for a burger and fry combo with a large soda, but not so well for the often-unpredictable nature of legal proceedings.
Is it a cost, or an investment?
We live in the age of the empowered consumer. While they don’t necessarily expect to tell you how to run your business, today’s clients will press you for an explanation on why your fees are structured the way they are. Take the concept of the billable hour.
How is it possible for them to understand and appreciate the cost of services if they’re focused on the amount of time you’re putting in for them rather than the value you’re creating? What’s more, the rest of the world has become far more transparent, offering customer-centric pricing.
Is it less expensive pricing? Are businesses sacrificing income in order to acquire and retain customers? The answer is a resounding no. All these businesses have done is to set and manage their customers’ expectations.
And that’s important for a law firm. Unless you’re someone who has a constant or ongoing need for legal services, an understanding of how lawyers charge for their services—and why—is a totally foreign concept.
All a new client might truly know is that they should have the right to easily calculate how much this is going to cost them.
The default mode
Like any professional, we have a tendency to immediately launch into doing what we are trained to provide for clients when they seek us out for our services. In doing so, we often skip a crucial aspect that sets the stage of what a client should expect from us.
Do they know?
Are they fully aware of what you will provide for their investment in your firm’s services? You know your full range and capacity. They, however, do not. And often, the only certainty they have is the established billable hour price they will contract to pay.
This sets up a lopsided dynamic. Both you and your client need an atmosphere of complete transparency—but what you may have instead is an unspoken distrust. They might show a tendency to be unwilling to interact with you because as far as they know, every minute is going toward that (not fully understood) billable hour.
There’s a simple solution, and it can go a long way toward establishing your firm’s value proposition. Manage their expectations. Set their mind at ease by taking a zero-based assumption approach. It’s human nature to question and dispute what we don’t know. Often, though, it’s simply because no one took the time to explain it to us.
Your clients may not necessarily be looking for ways to dictate how your firm charges them for services. They could simply be searching for clarification and understanding.
It’s In the Mix: Practical Advice Learned from Other Industries About Maintaining a Diverse Client Mix
Diversifying your client mix can reduce risk and protect your law practice from unexpected economic downturns
The old saying, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” has never been more true– and that’s especially the case when it comes to practicing law. Since many firms (particularly smaller ones) rely on just a few main clients for most of their billings, they’re leaving themselves potentially vulnerable to a variety of risks. Clients come and go and, unless a firm’s attorneys are careful, a firm could be bankrupted because one or two major clients moves, goes out of business, or decides to use the services of another firm. This is especially the case if the firm’s major clients are over-concentrated in the same business area– and more so if clients are operating in potentially volatile industries such as real estate, or finance.
Despite the many risks of client overconcentration, many attorneys still see their law practice as a vocation, rather than a business– so they fail to take precautions to diversify their income sources (i.e. clients) from market downturns and other risks. By failing to diversify their client base, these attorneys put both themselves and their employees at greater risk– but those risks can be avoided with a little preparation and a smart strategy.
Smart law firms make sure that no one client represents an outsized percentage of their revenue
In the last few decades, savvy lawyers have increasingly been treating law firms like what they are– businesses. Taking a business-like perspective with your law firm doesn’t just mean watching the bottom line; it also means making sure that the firm consistently retains diversified streams of revenue. If you were running a flower shop or a cafe, you’d know that relying on one client for more than a small fraction of your overall business is a disaster waiting to strike.
In fact, many experts suggest that businesses should ensure that no one client represents more than 10% of a company’s overall business revenue– and there’s absolutely no reason that shouldn’t apply to law firms, as well. However, in many cases, firms don’t hesitate to allow one client to represent 15%, 25%, or even 30% of their total revenue– and that can leave them in a shaky spot if a major client leaves the firm.
Smart firms also look to expand their practice by geographical area, when possible
In addition to diversifying clients by size of revenue and industry, it can also pay to expand your law practice’s marketing reach beyond your local area. For smaller firms, that could mean expanding to several counties around the area where most of the firm’s client base is situated, while medium-size firms may wish to expand statewide, or even to multiple states (if one of the partners is licensed to practice law there). A small number of small and medium-sized firms may wish to expand their marketing strategy internationally, but this is usually only appropriate for specific legal areas (i.e. immigration lawyers in South Florida marketing to clients in Latin America and the Caribbean).
Hiring a diverse employee base can help foster client diversity, too
If you’re hiring new employees and you’re looking to diversity your client base, you might want to consider diversifying your staff, as well. Whether that means looking for employees with different ethnic, cultural, or educational backgrounds, or hiring a new attorney who may be able to bring the firm a book of clients in a slightly different practice area, having a diverse staff can pay dividends when it comes to attracting a diverse client base.
In many cases, staff members with different backgrounds and areas of expertise can help solve client’s problems in innovative ways, while each helping to contribute their client expertise to a firm’s integrated marketing strategies. By giving your newly diversified staff occasional marketing tasks, such as blogging, attending industry events, or doing a limited amount of pro-bono work to help give your firm a helpful PR boost, you can help attract a diverse client base and effectively market your firm across a variety of high-ROI demographics.
Whatever you do, don’t depend too much on one or two clients to keep your firm in the black
In the legal industry, putting all your eggs in one basket can easily become a financial disaster. In the last few decades, several of world’s largest and most respected firms have gone under– a catastrophe they may have been able to avoid by taking proactive steps to diversify their client base to multiple practice areas, industries, and geographic areas. Nearly every other industry, including finance, tech, and media, knows that diversification is key to the long-term financial stability of a business. The legal industry is no different. So, if your firm’s clients are over-concentrated, it’s your responsibility to start marketing your firm to a wider range of customers. You, and your employees, will thank us later.
To learn more about how to diversify your law firm’s client base while protecting yourself from economic downturns, contact Boss Reporting today for a free consultation.
Alternative arrangements can cut costs, improve satisfaction for both parties
The billable hour: it’s the most common way attorneys calculate their fees– but it’s not for everyone. Around the country, both firms and clients are beginning to embrace alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) as a new way for firms to determine part or all of their client’s legal fees. Some clients prefer AFAs because they feel like they’ll pay less, while others simply need to know general costs well in advance to make sure they’ve properly budgeted for all anticipated expenses.
No matter what the reason clients want them, AFAs are here to stay– and it looks as if they’re growing more common each year. So, while the majority of U.S. legal clients are still billed by the hour, that might not always be the case. Here’s a look at how alternatives to the billable hour are helping modernize the legal landscape by providing a more simplified, streamlined, and efficient way for clients and their law firms to do business.
Why AFAs are consistently increasing in popularity
In today’s high-tech, high-competition, and ultra-customizable world, clients are used to fee structures being designed around their needs, not the other way around. Today’s businesses use a variety of professional service firms– including advertising and marketing agencies, accounting firms, and IT and software firms, to name a few. Most of these service businesses offer streamlined, flat-rate packages for a specific set of services, so clients know exactly what they’re getting up front and just how much it will cost– and some clients are beginning to expect the same from their law firms. And, while the economic squeeze on the legal industry has lessened in the last year or two, law is still a highly competitive field– and firms need to do everything to attract and retain clients, even if that means taking a radically different approach when it comes to fees.
Some clients have long disliked the billable-hour method of billing, feeling that it prioritizes time work, not lawyer productivity or value created for the client. In certain cases, miscommunications or misunderstandings about the actual amount of a client’s legal fees have ended up with angry clients suing their firms– and much of the time, the firm is forced to eat a portion of the fees it’s owed. While an increase in situations like this has caused many firms to be more careful about what they track as billable hours, a distrust of the billable hour remains among some legal customers. For these clients, using an AFA can help avoid billable hours altogether, putting the client at ease, and giving your firm a leg up on firms who may not be able or willing to offer alternative fee structures.
AFAs can spread the risk of legal cases between the client and the firm
Because of the unpredictable nature of many kinds of legal proceedings, it can be very difficult for firms to determine the price of some kinds of legal services in advance. This can be dealt with in a variety of ways. One such method is by flat-fee billing clients in sections, or blocks, such as a new fee for every few weeks of legal work. This way, the firm doesn’t have to calculate their anticipated costs for an entire case or project at once; instead, they only must calculate the costs for the next stage of the project.
In other cases, a firm will calculate the entire cost up front, understanding the fact that they may lose money over the case. As long as a firm keeps a good ratio of “in the black” cases to “in the red” ones, (i.e. a good ratio of profitable to unprofitable cases) their AFA cases can still be profitable in aggregate. In yet other cases, a flat fee is used with a discount or bonus depending (or contingent) upon the outcome of the case– such as a 30% increase if the client wins, and a 30% discount if they lose.
Hybrid fee arrangements combine the best of flat fees and billable hour-based charges
In some firms, clients don’t have to choose between AFA and billable-hour fee arrangements; instead, they can get the best of both worlds with a so-called ‘hybrid’ fee arrangement. These arrangements differ in nature depending on the firm, but they combine the characteristics of both types of fee methods. For example, a client may require two types of legal work; work that’s more “cookie-cutter” (in which the costs can easily be anticipated), and more complex work, in which it may be much more difficult to estimate potential costs. In this case, the ‘cookie-cutter’ work may be charged as a flat-fee, while the other work would be charged via the traditional billable hour method.
Alternative fee arrangements are all about providing your clients options
The growth of alternative fee arrangements in the legal industry is just an offshoot of the growth of products, systems, and services that are highly customizable to clients. Today’s clients– especially today’s business clients, want more options– and they won’t accept anything less than a stellar customer service experience molded to the needs of their organization. Firms that understand this will have a serious leg up attracting and retaining clients— while firms that don’t, remain at a serious (and increasing) disadvantage.
To learn more about how alternative fee arrangements can help grow your firm’s legal clients while maintaining strong profitability, contact Boss Reporting today for a free consultation.
Technological mistakes put lawyers and their practices at risk
Lawyers today live in an unprecedented era– a time where previously hidden information and expertise from around the world is available at the click of a button. Today’s lawyers take advantage of a variety of digital technologies each day in their practices, from conducting case research online and using e-discovery software, to implementing legal billing and case management programs in an attempt to streamline their firm’s internal processes.
While much of the change technology brings to lawyers is positive, not all of it is. In some cases, the use of technology can leave lawyers complacent and more prone to make serious errors. In an industry as high-stakes as law– where livelihoods, careers, and freedom sometimes hang in the balance, your clients can’t afford error. So, while technology can make a law firm faster, speed up the research process, and sometimes even speed up or enhance processes in the courtroom itself, lawyers need to seriously avoid outsourcing their decision-making skills to an app. Otherwise, they put both themselves and their clients at serious risk.
To-do lists, essential court filings, important meetings– keep a physical backup to avoid making a serious mistake
Scheduling software, case/law firm management programs, and team productivity apps have revolutionized (and organized) law offices across the country. While these software programs can seriously help streamline the legal planning and scheduling process, it’s all-too easy for attorneys to become over-reliant on software to handle all their appointments and assignments for the coming days and weeks.
For lawyers, relying only on one software program could be dangerous. Whether a glitch changes the dates of some or all appointments, or an unexpected computer crash leads to full-scale data loss, failing to back your appointment and scheduling data up could have serious consequences. That’s why you should print out a physical backup of your daily, weekly, and monthly schedule and/or keep important dates recorded in a notebook– and at the very least have a separate digital copy of your schedule to protect against data loss. While a co-worker may excuse a meeting missed due to a software error, a client or judge may not– and with the tiny amount of time it takes to create a physical duplicate, backing up your legal scheduling info is an incredibly worthwhile investment.
Lawyers leave themselves vulnerable by giving away information, answering emails, or speaking on the phone with high-tech scammers
Even lawyers are vulnerable to digital con men– and many criminals start by directly calling a law office, sometimes claiming to be a support employee from a software company or bank, offering to help with a situation or get the firm a discount. Since lawyers are generally highly-educated, many might think they’re ‘above’ falling for common credit card fraud, data theft, or identity theft scams– but sadly, they’re not. And, while the scams targeting lawyers and firms may not necessarily be different than those targeting the general population, lawyers and law firms have much more to lose than the average individual– including sensitive client and firm information, such as private case files and client billing and financial data.
Many scams begin with an email– and all someone has to do is open an attachment in order to release malware, spyware, or viruses onto their computer. Sometimes this leads to criminals secretly stealing data or running keystroke logging programs on a victim’s computer in order to detect and collect passwords, while in other cases, hackers may take a victim’s data hostage for hundreds (or thousands) of dollars. This can put firms in a serious predicament, and many may be forced to pay a ransom rather than lose access to essential information that could significantly impact their clients’ cases.
In other cases, victims receive emails that look as if they were from the victim’s financial institution. Not knowing the email is a scam, the victim attempts to “log in” to their bank, debit, or credit card account, and by doing so, unknowingly reveals their information to a scammer. This process, called phishing, is one of the most common digital scams– and this is another reason why lawyers should avoid doing any work on unsecured personal computer or unsecured personal email addresses. Attorneys should be extremely careful when giving their email or phone number to unknown individuals and untrustworthy online subscription services.
Lawyers who don’t bring backup tech to legal and courtroom presentations leave themselves open to disaster
Lawyers make important presentations on a regular basis– whether it’s simply a firm strategy presentation for an important partner at their law firm, or a presentation of video and photographic evidence in a criminal defense trial. Many of these presentations involve technology– including the use of video projectors, televisions, computer monitors, laptops, speakers, and slide projectors. Despite the benefits of these technologies, If the technology a lawyer is about to use stops working, it could leave them in rough spot– and many lawyers, so confident in the latest tech, fail to take any precautions in case their presentation technology doesn’t work as intended.
Therefore, to make sure you don’t embarrass yourself when making an important legal presentation, it’s essential to make sure you have one or more backups to protect yourself in case of emergency. “Two is one and one is none,” is the U.S. Marines’ famous saying regarding supplies and equipment– and while the saying was intended to refer to military supplies, it certainly applies to legal presentation technology as well. Therefore, a lawyer about to make a presentation involving a laptop, projector, and speakers should make sure to borrow, buy, or rent an additional laptop, projector, and set of speakers, as well as all required cords and accessories.
In addition to a digital backup, it sometimes helps to have a physical backup, such as a poster and an old-style “boom box” CD player, in the event of a power outage or other electrical failure. It can also help to have “lower-tech” options like a traditional bulb slide project available, in case something happens to your computer(s). It’s also important to make sure that presentation data is backed up— both physically (i.e. on 2 USB or hard drives), and in the cloud (i.e. on a secure server or a secure email inbox).
Lawyers need to use critical thinking skills to retain their competitive advantage and protect themselves from costly mistakes
Whether you accidentally botched a major presentation due to a broken projector, your sensitive client files are being held hostage by a hacker, or you failed to attend a client’s hearing due to faulty case management software, technology can get you in serious trouble if you fail to complement it with adequate critical thinking skills.
In today’s legal industry, where pre-written contracts can be found with a click and potential clients sometimes turn to Wikipedia instead of an attorney, having critical thinking skills might be a modern attorney’s number one competitive advantage over a machine. However, if lawyers don’t use their critical thinking skills, they leave themselves open to serious mistakes– and may just find themselves replaced by the machines they rely too heavily upon.
To learn more about how to keep your law firm running smoothly, contact Boss Reporting today for a free consultation.
Hourly billing may not be your favorite task as a lawyer, but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare either
The billable hour; depending upon who you ask, it might be one of the worst (or best) parts of working as an attorney. Despite an increasing amount of people calling for a change in attorney billing practices, and a shift toward flat-fee legal rates, the billable hour is here to stay— at least for now. And, since the billable hour isn’t going anywhere, you might as well make it work for you. A big part of that is knowing how to track the right costs.
In-person client meetings, preliminary case, issue, or contract research
Much of the legal work lawyers do today doesn’t involve getting up in front of a judge or jury– instead, it involves several hours of meticulous legal research. Since many areas of the law are so complex, many legal cases may need a team of lawyers researching for multiple weeks– or even months, depending on the size and scope of the case and the various issues at hand. In addition to taking up the time of attorneys and other staff, research can be expensive in its own right. In fact, many firms may have to make hundreds or even thousands of dollars of purchases to effectively research a case. These might include:
- Specialized research software or legal software
- Special or additional subscriptions to legal or academic search engines
- Paid access to scholarly articles, scientific studies, or research papers
- Physical books or paperwork purchased for research purposes
Consultation with outside counsel, subject-matter experts or potential expert witnesses
While any one lawyer may be a bona-fide subject matter expert in two or three areas, many complex legal projects can involve a variety of legal and non-legal subject areas, which can often overwhelm attorneys if they’re not prepared. In some situations, a firm may need to contract with another lawyer outside their firm with more expertise in a specific legal area. These attorneys, acting as ‘outside counsel’ to the original firm, are usually hired to provide lawyers and their clients clarification or legal advice on the specific details of a complex contract or case.
While hiring outside counsel can be extremely beneficial in certain cases, the costs can easily add up– especially if a lawyer from a different firm is called for the entire duration of the original firm’s work. While an hour or two consultation with another firm’s lawyer may not cost much, an outside lawyer providing additional counsel throughout the entire duration of a lengthy trial could easily add up to tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Getting bills from two lawyers can often anger and confuse clients who don’t understand what’s going on, so you need to be clear– and careful, about how and when you use (and bill for) outside counsel.
In other cases, lawyers and their clients need a subject matter expert to provide guidance on a non-legal matter that affects the case at hand— such as a private criminologist examining a crime scene involved in a legal dispute, a doctor conducting genetic testing, or a computer forensics expert looking at a hard drive.
Travel and transportation costs can add up, especially in certain kinds of cases
If a legal matter has you or members of your firm traveling to meet a distant client on-site, or you’re involved in a lengthy in-court legal dispute, certain kinds of legal work (and certain clients) may have you traveling significantly. This can greatly add to your costs, since travel eats up otherwise productive time (even if you do get some work done). To a lesser extent, the actual costs of travel themselves can also add up, especially if a lot of driving or flying is involved. Therefore, it’s essential to incorporate these costs in your billable hours.
Many lawyers, for example, bill at half their hourly rate for travel, in addition to charging the customer any tolls, parking fees, and a certain amount of money per mile driven. Others charge their full billable hour rate, while others charge a flat fee, or even nothing at all. Whatever you charge clients for in terms of travel, it’s essential to let them know up front. Otherwise they could be footing a huge expense that they never even knew they had– something that many clients would consider unfair.
Make sure your clients understand what, why, how, when, and how much you’re billing them always
If you’re a lawyer, accurately tracking the right costs is essential, but making sure your client pays (and pays on time) is equally as important. In addition, you want your client to be satisfied with (or at least accepting of) your fee, otherwise, they’ll be less likely to return in the future and less apt to recommend your firm to others. To accomplish this, you’ll want to make sure that any bills you send your client are clear, sufficiently detailed, and relatively easy for a layman to understand.
Many business owners, executives, and other clients are extremely busy– and it’s not their responsibility to understand the law or how you used it to help them. It’s your responsibility to succinctly explain it to them, both during the time you’ve spend with them, and on the invoice you send. In most cases, the more a client understands about how and why you’ve billed them (provided you’re being honest) the more likely they are to be satisfied with the amount.
When billing, avoid multi-hour blocks and clear up confusion before clients owe you big
In addition to explaining the general what, how, why, when and how much you’re billing, experts also suggest that attorneys avoid automatically billing their hours in multi-hour blocks. Instead, it may be better to bill for each individual activity, whether it takes 25 minutes, or three hours. In addition to keeping language simple, this single-activity billing method can go a long way towards clearing up any confusion on the part of your clients about how all those billable hours were spent.
Finally, it’s important to remind attorneys that it’s considerably easier to resolve any problems with clients early in the billing process, rather than later. If you think a client may be confused, won’t want to pay, or may not understand how much and why you’re billing them, it’s much better to clear things up before they owe you a significant amount of money.
To learn more about how to make billable hours (or other fee schemes) work for you and your law firm, contact Boss Reporting today for a free consultation.
When it comes to purchasing your legal services, an informed customer is your best consumer
If you’re a lawyer who wants to maximize the value your customers receive from your legal services, properly educating them is paramount to your success. Law is an incredibly complex field– and it can be easy for customers who don’t understand the law to be less than understanding of the fees you charge for your firm’s services. That’s why providing accurate, comprehensive, and specifically relevant information about how the law affects your client’s business isn’t just the best way to help clients understand your fees; it’s the only way.
Lawyers and firms have a diverse array of customer education tools at their disposal
From customized emails and e-books to blogs, presentations, and seminars, lawyers and firms have never had more ways to educate their clients about how legal affairs can impact their lives and businesses– and how their services may be able to help. The education format (or formats) that a lawyer or firm chooses can depend on a variety of factors, including:
- Attorney/firm preferences
- Client preferences
- Availability/ease of access/use
- Cost/time investment
Each method of education has costs and benefits, and firms may find that certain methods are great for some types of clients, while not others. For example, older, professional clients may appreciate the in-person touch and interaction of a bi-monthly talk or seminar, while a younger and more tech-savvy client may appreciate a personalized email or a series of blog posts tailored to their specific business or industry. While, for example, an in-person seminar may be a much greater expense in terms of time and money than an email, it can offer a much more enriching experience for certain clients. Each firm or attorney will need to do research and speak to clients to determine what exact mix of educational materials, communications, and experiences they want to create for their clients.
Attorneys and firms should consider education as part of their continuing marketing process as, in many ways, a law firm’s marketing efforts shouldn’t stop when a customer comes in through the door. Instead, a firm should constantly and consistently demonstrate their value to clients by not only providing excellent customer service, but by providing them comprehensive information about how the legal environment will affect their business now, and in the future.
List email newsletters are a common mainstay– but personalized emails may be a better move
Many law firms offer weekly, monthly, or quarterly email newsletters to clients. While these are often a step in the right direction, they sometimes don’t offer the personalized touch that clients want from their attorneys. Instead, it may be more effective to have specific articles, blogs, or news-flashes sent directly from the client’s attorney– not just the firm. While this may take considerably more time than a standard newsletter, it can often pay dividends in strengthening your firm’s relationship with its clients.
However, you don’t necessarily have to send one-on-one emails to address your client’s specific needs. Instead, you and your firm may wish to send out two to four separate versions of your newsletter, each to a different group of clients. For example, if your firm deals with clients in the aviation, technology, and media industries, it may be prudent to send out a different newsletter for each group of clients. Therefore, your clients don’t simply get general information. Instead, they get highly-focused news and data specific to their individual industry and overall business needs.
E-books and blogs can provide comprehensive knowledge on complex, industry-specific legal matters
From depositions to arbitrations and settlements, law can be full of terms that may be very basic to you, but could seem complex to a client. In today’s digital media landscape, publishing blogs and e-books may be two of the best ways to educate your clients about basic legal terminology, as well as keeping them updated about how laws are changing in their industry.
In whichever sector your clients work, if they aren’t aware of legal terminology, they may not understand what you’re billing. As every lawyer knows, preparing for days in court, submitting documents to judges and other attorneys, and preparing contracts for multiple parties can all be time consuming processes— sometimes necessitating the work of multiple attorneys and an army of clerks, advisors, and assistants. That doesn’t include special costs that could arise, such as calling in a legal expert from another firm, or an expert witness to help shore up an argument in court. In many cases, what seems like a simple accomplishment to a client may have taken many hours of time and the contribution of multiple attorneys. However, the more clients know about the law, the more likely they are to understand the painstaking work and long hours it takes to get them the outcome they desire. Writing about the law is an excellent way to inform them.
Networking events can also be a great way to educate clients– and potentially meet new ones
Blogging, e-books, and other online publishing activities are essential for modern law firms– but they’re not without their limitations. A huge segment of the population, including many people born in the 40s through 60s, still prefer to do most their interaction in person. This means that if you want your client education programs to be truly effective, they need to incorporate an in-person option as well.
Many attorneys hold monthly or quarterly speaking events, in which they rent out a local space, create fliers and marketing materials, and invite both clients and members of the public to discuss a legal topic of interest to local business owners. Not only will this help educate clients about the value of your work, but it can also serve as a powerful marketing tool, attracting new clients to your business. Other attorneys hold weekly or monthly lunches or office meetings, inviting close friends, clients, and other attorneys to have a frank, in-depth discussion about how the law affects each of their industries, and how new legal developments impact their businesses and their lives. This can be a slightly more intimate way to solidify your relationship with current clients and to help them better understand the work you do.
Understanding legal matters can help clients realize just how long a project might take– which may also help them stomach a higher fee than they initially expected
If some of your clients seem angry or surprised at the size of a legal bill, they might not just be frugal; instead, they likely have a serious lack of understanding about how the legal system itself works. Bridging this gap of understanding isn’t just about educating your clients; it’s about laying out the potential legal fees a client will face beforehand, as well as going into detail during and after the legal work is complete to attempt to explain the costs a client is incurring.
It’s important to make sure that any statements you send them details how each hour was used– as well as notes about any potential areas of confusion or extra fees and expenses the client might be facing. If a client sees a reasonable and easy-to-read breakdown of expenses, and has been informed upfront about both general fees and your billable hour rate, they’ll be much more understanding about the expensive nature of so much of today’s legal work.
To learn more about how to help your legal clients understand and appreciate the value you provide, contact Boss Reporting today for a free consultation.
DIY marketing combined with a little professional help can go a long way for solo practitioners and small firms
Whether you’ve recently set out on your own as a solo practitioner, or you’ve started a small firm with a few other attorneys, getting new law clients is often a number-one priority. To do that, you’ll need a business plan– and by making one, you can create a solid roadmap for your practice– full of strategies you can use to see what kinds of marketing activities work best for your law firm– and a smart plan to implement them.
To make the most out of self-marketing, you’ll need to know your goals, including your ideal client
To effectively create a DIY marketing plan for your firm, it’s essential to know your exact goals. To do that, it helps to ask yourself questions, including:
- If you’re a solo practitioner, how much revenue and profit would you like the firm to (realistically) bring in?
- If you’re a partner in a small firm, how much would like you and your partners to bring in?
- What exact legal services do you want to promote?
- Who is your ideal client? What’s their age? Gender? Industry? Ethnicity? Net worth?
Asking and answering these questions is a great first step to legal marketing success– and knowing the answers will allow you to make more efficient, effective, and rewarding choices when it comes to marketing your law practice. Without knowing yourself and your clients, you’ll simply be trying to find your way in the dark.
Email, Facebook, LinkedIn, print ads, mailings, and more: Which is most effective, and which comes first?
When it comes to marketing, it’s easy to be confused by the multitude of options. As much as you want to see (and potentially mimic) what other successful firms have done, you also want to make sure that your firm does something a little different, or extra perhaps, to give it a competitive edge over the competition.
To know which marketing activities are likely to provide the biggest ROI for your firm and generate real, quality clients, you’ll have to learn a bit about them, and, after consulting with co-workers, employees, or yourself (in the case of solo practitioners), decide how they fit into your integrated marketing strategy. Here are how some of the most common marketing methods might align with your firm’s goals:
- Facebook: Creating a fan page or business page for your firm is essential; firm partners and other employees can use their personal Facebook pages (and friends) to draw traffic to the firm’s page (just make sure all public info on personal accounts, including photos, is business appropriate.) Later, firms may also want to purchase Facebook ads or “boost” page posts in order to increase customer awareness.
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn doesn’t necessarily have the massive reach of a platform like Facebook– but its users include many business owners, executives, and entrepreneurs, all of whom might be potential clients for your firm. To increase credibility, lawyers can have other clients and professionals offer recommendations– and they can also post blogs to share thoughts and ideas with others on the site.
- Blogging: Blogging is another essential part of legal internet marketing. Law firms should update blogs regularly, either writing the posts themselves, or hiring a marketing firm or blogging service to create informative posts of interest to potential clients. Blogs can and should be posted and promoted through a firm’s Facebook and LinkedIn pages– and it helps to get creative. Multimedia tools, like helpful (and shareable) videos and infographics, can make your marketing succeed on even the most crowded of platforms.
- Websites: While nearly every firm has a website, not all law firm websites are equal. Ones that look dated, extremely plain or too flashy, don’t provide essential information about the firm’s attorneys and their practice areas, and don’t prominently feature the firm’s blog may not be ideal for attracting new clients.
- Mailings: While the ROI differs greatly between different markets and practice areas, many businesses (including law firms) have stopped using mail as a marketing technique due to an increased focus on digital marketing strategies. This means that, since there may be fewer competitors, mail marketing could help your firm succeed in a crowded legal marketplace.
- Print Ads: Print ads might be considered an afterthought in the age of digital marketing, but the truth is that many older customers still crave the sensation of reading printed newspapers and magazines– especially on the local level. Due to digital advances, local print advertising may be offered at a steep discount in many markets, and some firms that print ads can significantly boost the combined ROI of their sales and marketing efforts.
- Email: Some experts posit that email marketing has the best (on average) ROI of any digital marketing method– but it can be tricky to master. Developing a big contact list, and a creating a consistent (yet non-intrusive) communication strategy are key to making sure your emails help, not hurt, your marketing initiatives.
- In-person events: Having your firm’s attorneys give free, in-person talks throughout the community can be one of the best ways to increase local exposure for your law practice and create goodwill for your firm. When giving a talk, you never know who might be listening– and a random audience member could become your firm’s next big client.
When it comes to legal marketing, success is not determined by how many tools you use, but how you use them to achieve your firm’s goals
All the marketing options listed above are simply a fragment of the options law firms have to promote themselves. Unless you or your firm has a big budget (and a lot of time) it’s best to stick to 2-3 at first and do them well. Trying more than that at once can often be confusing and demoralizing– after all, you’re not just marketing–you’re running a practice at the same time.
In many cases, it can also be effective to bring in a little outside help, even for solo practitioners on a small budget. That could mean consulting with a local PR agent to get a local speaking engagement, or purchasing a few hours of consultation with a small advertising agency or marketing company in order to brush up on your email and social media strategy. Remember, just because you’re doing it yourself doesn’t mean you should do everything alone. Even if you’re willing to put the hours in to make every Facebook post and write every blog yourself, it can pay to make sure that you’re going in the right direction.
Smart legal marketing isn’t necessarily complex– but it can be time consuming. However, if you do your research, make smart decisions, and aren’t afraid to sweat, a little work can go a long way toward building the rewarding legal practice that you deserve.
To learn more about how to manage, market and protect your law firm in a changing world, contact Boss Reporting today for a free consultation.
Implementing smart strategies can reduce presentation anxiety and significantly improve performance
Public speaking is by far the number one fear in America, far more common that the fear of death, snakes, heights, planes, insects, and spiders. For those who like speaking, it’s hard to imagine that to some, public speaking is scarier than a giant cockroach– but for those who hate it, almost anything is preferable to a few minutes in the spotlight.
While some find it frightening, public speaking doesn’t have to cause serious anxiety– if you know how to do it right. To give a great speech without fear, you’ll need serious preparation, smart visual aids, and focused body language to engage, entertain, and inspire your audience.
1. Practice, practice, practice
Researchers say that up to 75% of public speaking performance anxiety can be prevented with sufficient preparation. How much is sufficient? A lot more than you might think; research indicates that to ensure a proper delivery, individuals should read their entire speech aloud at least 40 times. Ideally, the last 10-20 times should be mostly or completely “off-book,” meaning that much or all of the speech has already been memorized.
That means for a short, 10-minute speech, at least six hours and forty minutes (not including breaks) of preparation time will be required. In reality, a speaker will need a decent number of breaks, as well as extra time to re-work parts of the presentation that are not working. In practice, a 10-minute speech would likely need about 10 hours of preparation to give the speaker the best shot at a well-delivered presentation.
2. Practice in front of real people
While practice is one of the most essential ways to reduce public speaking anxiety, the best forms of practice mimic the real-life conditions of a speech. Unless you get unlucky, you won’t be presenting to an empty room, so you shouldn’t practice in an empty room either. If possible, get one or more friends or family members to watch a few of your last practice sessions.
Even if they only watch you practice a speech 2-3 times, having friends or loved ones watch your speech can be an excellent way for you to practice making eye contact and emotionally engaging with your audience. In addition, friends and family members can provide potentially valuable feedback about your speech and help suggest ways to improve it. If you realize that simply having family in the room makes you nervous and messes up your speech, that simply means that you’ll have to practice it with others in the room until you perfect your mistakes.
3. Look at one person in the audience at a time
Many individuals who fear public speaking say they feel as if the entire crowd is judging them at once– and for people who suffer from presentation anxiety, this feeling can seriously impact their ability to succeed in public speaking. One great way to reduce anxiety– and improve your body language, is to make direct eye contact with one person in the audience at a time. As you give the speech, you can slowly switch between multiple individuals in the audience. This can make it feel like you’re simply talking to one person at a time– instead of tens, hundreds, or thousands.
4. If possible, use engaging visual aids to support your argument
When giving a speech or presentation, you’ll want to use every tool available to make it shine– and that often means finding or creating a visual accompaniment. This can be an object, such as evidence, a chart or map, or even a video or a slideshow shown via projector. While it may not be possible to use visual aids in some legal settings, when it is, it can make a serious difference. The old saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ is certainly true when it comes to public speaking, especially when engaging in courtroom or settlement negotiations.
When deciding which visual aids to use, it’s important to make sure that they work with you, not against you. Don’t bring anything to a presentation or speech unless it’s relevant to your argument or ideas– and most importantly, avoid anything that will detract or distract from your core legal argument.
5. If speaking in an unfamiliar place, visit it or look it up first
The closer you can simulate the conditions of a speech, the easier it is to practice for. So, if you know where you’re going to give a speech or presentation, check it out in person, and practice there if possible. If the place you’re going is currently inaccessible, such as a locked courtroom or an office in a different state, attempt to look up the location online first. This can help you more accurately visualize giving a successful speech, as well as increase the chance that you aren’t thrown off by any last-minute surprises.
6. Have your body language work with you, not against you
Many experts believe that your body language during a speech may be far more important than what you actually say, especially when you’re trying to persuade others with your presentation. Strong, confident body language will reinforce your speech, while sloppy, unfocused body movements will detract from it. When giving a speech, make sure you never turn away from the audience. In addition, while it may be a good idea to move around for certain parts of your speech, you’ll likely want to stay grounded and directly face the audience when introducing yourself and hitting upon important parts of your presentation. While it’s important to gesture during your speech, you don’t want to overdo it. Subtle, engaging gestures can enhance your speech, but waving your hands and over-gesturing will look unprofessional and could distract your audience.
Research, practice, and prepare to reduce public speaking-related anxiety
When it comes to public speaking, preparation is key. It’s always better to over-prepare than to under-prepare. In addition, remember to speak slowly, loudly and to pronounce every syllable crisply and cleanly. Most people tend to rush and slur their words when nervous, so you’ll want to take extra care to speak slowly and carefully, especially if you get particularly anxious when presenting in front of others. While public speaking can be tough for first-timers, giving a speech doesn’t have to be painful; and preparation can make all the difference.
To learn more about our law firm management tips and our advice for lawyers of all ages, contact Boss Reporting today for a free consultation.
Transitioning to a different practice area can be difficult, so it’s important to be prepared.
While some lawyers are happy with their jobs, unfortunately, many are not. Research shows that 23% of lawyers experience chronic stress– a concerning number, by any measure. While much of that stress might be chalked up to long work hours and the intensity of the legal profession itself, it may also partly be caused by the fact that attorneys might not be practicing the right kind of law for their skills and interests.
Different types of law require the use of vastly different skills. For example, corporate lawyers may need to be excellent at drawing up contracts and arranging boardroom deals behind closed doors, while patent lawyers may need to have a great understanding of science and technology to understand, interpret, and argue the reasoning behind awarding patents to new technologies and radical inventions.
Unfortunately, many attorneys don’t choose their practice area for the right reasons. Compared to most other professions, the legal field is incredibly competitive, so many attorneys choose their practice area based on convenience or necessity instead of actual desires, skill, and interests. Different people are naturally suited to different kinds of legal practices, and attorneys who choose a practice they aren’t well-suited for are shortchanging themselves, both personally and professionally.
Research and networking are essential steps to take before making a big change.
While making a change in practice area can be an appropriate choice, it’s often a serious challenge. That means that before making this big change, it’s important to research, prepare, and weigh your options. Changing practice areas can be especially challenging for older lawyers, those who lack prestigious academic credentials, and those trying to break into highly competitive legal fields, such as trial law. A lawyer’s ability to switch practice areas is also influenced by the underlying economic conditions in the industry, which collectively determine the demand, and therefore, the amount of available law positions in a certain practice area.
The law school internship process often leads to attorneys choosing their practice area without significant consideration.
In most careers, individuals usually specifically determine the exact field in which they want to work, and then directly apply to jobs or internships within that field. In the highly competitive legal profession, however, things often work much differently. All but the top students usually engage in a protracted search for jobs and internships during and directly after law school, often accepting the best job they can find during that time.
As young attorneys gain more experience in their specific practice area, others in the industry often begin to categorize them and build expectations of them as either litigation, corporate, or patent attorneys. Unfortunately, this ‘typecasting’ can make it more difficult for an attorney to switch practice areas after more than a few years in one type of practice.
Academic credentials, professional connections, and industry demand all contribute to a successful practice area change.
Most law firms in the country still heavily judge potential employees based on the merit of their academic credentials. Having prestigious academic credentials can make it much easier for lawyers to change practice areas. Having great credentials can also help older lawyers who wish to change practice areas after already being well-established in one area of the law. Having a strong professional network is also extremely important if you want to switch practice areas. Friends and associates can help you get interviews, may be able recommend you to potential hiring managers, and can provide specific advice about how to apply or interview at certain firms.
What difference does practice area make?
While every law firm is different, and no lawyer’s individual workload is exactly alike, here are a few generalizations about the skill set and demands of some of the most common practice areas in the legal profession:
- Corporate: somewhat unpredictable workflow, may be good for those who like numbers, may fit individuals who are somewhat, but not overly extroverted
- Litigation: more predictable workflow, may attract more charismatic and/or outgoing individuals
- M&A: may also be more suited towards individuals who are extroverted, outgoing, confident, and assertive
- Tax: lots of paperwork and financial calculations; may be better for introverts and number oriented types
- IP: may also be good for introverts, requires considerable paperwork, so may be better for those who enjoy reading
Before attempting to switch practice areas by joining another firm, determine whether you can move horizontally within your firm first.
Considering the difficulty, time, and expense that it can take to switch jobs in the legal field, it may make sense for you to see whether it’s possible to move laterally in your firm before searching for an entirely new position. This may be an especially smart choice if you like your firm but want a change in the kind of work you are doing. Before asking for an internal transfer, you’ll want to make sure you already have a reputation as an effective attorney within the firm. If you can’t do your current work well, senior attorneys may not want to see you attempt to take on a new challenge at the firm’s expense.
While an internal transfer can lead to increased career satisfaction for some lawyers, some attorneys who think they want to change their practice area actually want to change firms. This may or may not involve switching practice areas. However, working with new people in a new environment (while keeping their practice area the same) may be enough to satisfy many people. Therefore, before making any big choices, it’s a good idea to consult with other friends or associates in the legal industry and do considerable research (and a little bit of soul searching), so you don’t make any choices you’ll regret later.
To learn more about our career advice for attorneys of all ages, as well as our state-of-the-art law practice management strategies, contact Boss Reporting today for a free consultation.
Studies show that workplace design has a huge impact on worker productivity, but many workers aren’t pleased with their workspaces
More evidence is beginning to show that the way a workspace is designed has a huge influence on a workforce’s ability to concentrate, collaborate, and perform– especially under high stress conditions. In fact, many studies indicate that the number one factor that determines how employees will perform is their physical environment. Despite the importance of workspaces, many employees aren’t too pleased with the offices in which they currently work.
Concerns like lack of worker privacy, lack of natural lighting, aging carpets and other factors are making it more difficult for workers to concentrate and feel comfortable. So, if you want to maximize your law firm’s bottom line, you may want to consider re-designing your firm’s office to better suit your workforce.
Current office spaces leave much to be desired, say many employees
Surveys show that 90% of workers are less than satisfied with their work environment, primarily because of a lack of privacy. Seventy percent of offices have an open layout, and this could be one of the biggest roadblocks to increased productivity among a company’s workers. Open-office plans may be great for inspiring collaboration, but they may not be the best for many employees. Even the most extroverted employees want a place they can go to concentrate quietly and have a private conversation if necessary. In addition, being exposed 24/7 may increase long term employee stress, especially in a high-pressure, high-stakes field like law, which often demands long hours and other challenging working conditions.
Decoration (or lack thereof), natural lighting, and temperature can have a significant impact on worker productivity
When designing or redesigning a law office, you should aim to create a positive and well decorated environment that inspires calm for employees and clients alike. For example, framed prints or canvases with tasteful inspirational quotes can be a pleasant decoration in many offices. In addition, if you’re choosing or renovating an office, it’s essential to keep in mind that natural light is essential for maximum productivity and health. There are many studies that show workers who experience a lack of sunshine, and therefore a lack of vitamin D, have disturbed circadian rhythms, and disturbed sleep patterns, which can often lead to drowsiness and chronic fatigue.
While tasteful decorations and adequate sunlight are important, they aren’t the only factors that can impact employee happiness and productivity. Studies show having a pleasing view is correlated with a 16% increase in work productivity and performance– so if you’re choosing between layouts or properties, you may want to go for the one with the better views. Seemingly little aspects like office temperature are and noise are also important in ensuring a comfortable work environment. Researchers say that the ideal office is temperature is around 69-71 degrees Fahrenheit, with colder temperatures increasing worker distraction and discomfort and warmer temperatures associated with sluggishness and sleepiness in many workers. In terms of noise, too much may also damage workplace productivity.
Removing environmental pollutants and investing in ergonomic technology can also serious impact employee performance
While it might not be the most obvious barrier to worker productivity, it’s extremely important to make sure that your office isn’t filled with environmental pollutants. The benefits to workers are obvious; for example, one study showed that when 20-year-old carpet was replaced with new carpet in an office, worker productivity went up 4%. in another office, a replacement of the office’s air filtration system resulted in a 10% decrease in the time it took to service calls. Other seemingly minor changes, like updating outdated technology, have also been correlated with a spike in worker productivity; one study discovered that offices using old CRT monitors had a 16% decrease in typing accuracy in comparison to individuals using new monitors.
Making sure your legal workspace is appealing for employees, managers, and clients isn’t complex, and most elements of a positive and uplifting workspace are obvious. Elements like natural light, cleanliness, modern technology, good views, and a decent amount of privacy aren’t new; but in the rush to cut costs and increase the bottom line, many firms attempt to cut office expenses first, and this could have serious effects on their workers’ productivity. To make sure your employees’ performance is helped, not hindered, by their environment, listen to your employees, take notes, and do research to make sure that you’re not making mistakes when it comes to developing an ergonomic, inspiring, and profitable law office.
To learn more about how to maximize your law firm’s work environment for success, contact Boss Reporting today for a free consultation.
Honesty, positivity, and understanding are all essential to soften the blow from negative legal news
If you’re an attorney, giving clients bad news can be one of the toughest parts of the job. A lawyer’s work can determine someone’s reputation, their financial future, their ability to spend time with their families and, in criminal law, even their life and freedom. Delivering bad news the wrong way can upset your clients and reduce your perceived trustworthiness as a lawyer, while giving bad news the right way may actually enhance your reputation as a caring, understanding, and dependable attorney.
Honesty is always the best policy
As an attorney, it’s your legal responsibility to be honest and straightforward with all your clients. However, even if that wasn’t the case, it would still be a good idea to do so. Being dishonest with your clients won’t simply cause you trouble in the short-term, it can cause long-term problems over time, as you may have to work harder and harder to cover up what was originally a simple mistake. Therefore, no matter what the situation is, it’s usually best to be completely upfront about it– no matter whether you think your client will be upset or not. Even if they seem angry initially, many clients will thank you later for your honesty and straightforwardness.
Try giving bad news first, then finish with good news (and stay positive)
No matter how bad the situation or news you’re about to deliver to a client, there’s almost always a silver lining– and you should use that to your advantage. Ideally, you’ll first tell the client the bad news, then, you can focus on the positives of the situation. That way, the client has a better chance of leaving the conversation or interaction on a positive note.
Avoid giving clients bad news when they’re already stressed (with some exceptions)
If you’re on the phone with a client, and it already seems as if their world is about to explode, now might not be the best time to deliver bad news. If possible, see if you can call them the next day, or at the very least, in a few hours, when there’s a better chance that they’ll be calmer and more receptive to what you have to say. Of course, this isn’t always possible, especially if a client is asking you specific questions– as you should never, ever withhold any information from a client who wants an answer. Also, if not knowing certain information could negatively affect your client’s case, you should always tell them immediately, whether or not it will upset them.
Try to put yourself in your client’s shoes; acknowledge and show that you understand their feelings
Being on the receiving end of bad news can be difficult for anyone. Whether a client is set to lose a large amount of money during divorce proceedings, or a party has backed out of a lucrative litigation settlement, many legal decisions can seriously affect a client’s life for years to come. Because of the gravity of many of these situations, it can help to try to see the situation from your client’s standpoint before speaking with them. Ask yourself questions, including: How will this affect the client in the long run? What might the client be afraid of most? What details would you need to know if you were the client?
Going through this process can often help you develop a comprehensive, effective, and reassuring message to deliver to your client that will simultaneously inform them of the situation while allaying some of their fears. If you can effectively do that on a regular basis, you’ll show your clients that you’re understanding, trustworthy, and dependable– all traits that will boost your professional reputation and have your clients coming back again and again.
To learn more tips about law practice management and our career advice for lawyers of all ages, contact Boss Reporting today for a free consultation.
Listening closely, asking for feedback, and going the extra mile are key if you want to fully satisfy clients
Even some of the most mediocre lawyers can get a decent amount of clients– but for lawyers who want to stand out from the crowd, getting a client is just the first half of the battle. To develop a truly successful legal career, whether as a partner, an associate at a firm, or as solo practitioner, you’ll need to retain clients– and even more importantly, make sure those clients recommend you to their friends, relatives, and business associates.
To do this, you’ll need to make sure that your clients aren’t simply ok with your work– you’ll want them to love it. To do that, you might need to start upping your game when it comes to customer service, and here’s how.
Listen, be attentive, and pay close attention to your clients
Even though every child learns the importance of listening in school, many attorneys seem to forget this as they get older. Perhaps it’s the stressful nature of the legal industry, or the fact that attorneys are trained to speak professionally. Either way, many lawyers could benefit from improved listening skills. Listening more– and more deeply– to your clients allows you to determine what they really want, what they really need to know, and what their major concerns are. Once you’ve determined this information, you can tailor your communications with your client to their specific needs– making them feel happier, better informed, and truly heard.
Know your clients and understand their industry (especially important for business law)
If your client is a business owner or executive, they will understand far more about their business than you ever will as an attorney– but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t develop some level of expertise. Nothing feels worse for a client than realizing that his or her attorney knows almost nothing about the business and industry for which they’ve devoted their life to work.
So, instead of sounding ignorant about your client’s business, do your research first– and try to learn enough to carry out an interesting conversation with them about it. Being able to do this will put many of your client’s worries to rest and it shows them that you truly care about their well-being as individuals. On a professional level, demonstrating your industry knowledge shows clients that you’re committed to getting them a positive legal outcome– and have the information to do it.
Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback and accept criticism
Much like listening, accepting criticism can be tough for many attorneys– but it can also be an invaluable skill that can make the difference between mediocrity and incredible success. Asking for feedback from your clients on a regular basis allows you to learn from your mistakes in real time– and, perhaps more importantly, is another way to show clients you truly care.
However, to fully satisfy clients, you need to be good at accepting all kinds of criticism– not just the kind that comes when you ask for it. While you may not be able to (and shouldn’t) accept ridiculous demands from clients, when a client approaches you with a reasonable misgiving about the way you or your firm handled (or mishandled) a situation, it can pay to listen carefully and accept the fact that you, and perhaps your employees or co-workers, made a mistake.
Go the extra mile to help clients (even with non-legal matters)
Being an excellent lawyer and a good communicator aren’t the only ways to impress clients and show them that you care. A smart attorney always keeps his or her ears open for ways to help clients, even if it’s in an unexpected way. For example, if you have one friend or client that could use the products, services, or expertise of another friend or client, it can pay to put the two parties in contact.
In addition, many smart lawyers also keep all their client’s birthdays on file, send them cards for birthdays, holidays, bereavement, illnesses, and on other appropriate occasions. Much like keeping an ear out for ways to help your clients, sending cards will help them see you as the compassionate, caring, and attentive professional that you are (and that they want you to be).
To learn more about law firm management techniques and our career advice for lawyers of all ages, contact Boss Reporting today for a free consultation.
Accessibility, honestly, and industry expertise are essential if you want to fully satisfy clients
What do clients really want out of their lawyer? Surprisingly few attorneys ask themselves this question– and even fewer ask themselves on a regular basis. While the answers might seem obvious, if you’re not fulfilling these needs for your clients, they may not be fully satisfied with your work. A lack of client satisfaction means that your customers are much less likely to recommend you to others– and even less likely to come back to you the next time they need legal assistance.
So, if you want to work toward retaining and building your client base, it’s smart to try to understand exactly what they want and not what you think they want, or what you think they should want. The three elements of client satisfaction we’ve listed below are easy enough to understand, but can be surprisingly difficult to employ at times (especially when an attorney’s juggling a full caseload of highly demanding clients). But just because maximizing client satisfaction can be difficult doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try– in fact, it could easily be the difference between success and failure in your legal career.
Most clients want their attorney to be reasonably accessible, especially if they don’t understand the legal process well
Some clients want to talk to their attorney 24/7– whether you’re sleeping late at night, relaxing on the weekend, or going on a vacation with your family. Depending on the importance of the client and the case, you may have to indulge them, but in general you should set specific limits on when and how you’re available. That’s not the kind of clients we’re talking about here.
In general, clients simply want to stay informed every time a significant development occurs on their case, and want calls, texts, emails, voice messages, and other communications returned within 24-48 hours. If you can do this reliably, the clear majority of clients will be satisfied with your accessibility and communication skills. Plus, to save time, you can use an assistant or paralegal to answer questions that don’t need to be answered by an attorney, including dates, scheduling, and very basic legal info.
Being honest has both short and long term benefits for lawyers, and is essential if you want to comply with professional standards and maintain an excellent reputation
Like in any other profession, in the legal field, you’re only as good as your word. In fact, keeping your word and being honest is much more important in law than in many other industries. Legal judgements can not only affect people’s bank accounts– they can seriously impact your client’s lives, freedoms, and families.
While honesty in the courtroom is required under the law, honesty with your clients is just as important– especially if you mess up. The majority of clients would rather you own up to a professional mistake immediately rather than be forced to find out later that it negatively impacted the outcome of their case, mediation, arbitration, or trial. Moreover, being dishonest with your clients could get you disbarred– so telling the truth is always the best idea– even if it hurts.
Industry expertise helps clients feel at ease and puts you ahead of the competition
Whether your legal practice or firm focuses on technology, entertainment, or personal-injury law, it’s essential to know your area(s) of practice from front-to-back. Understanding the industry that your clients come from will help you be a better lawyer– and it can also help you woo potential clients, many whom will feel far more confident in you if you can demonstrate in-depth and up-to-date knowledge of their industry or specific type of case.
To brush up on a specific area, lawyers can subscribe to trade journals, customize their online news alerts, and read books, blogs, and other industry publications on a regular basis. Additionally, what you don’t understand you can ask friends and clients in the industry. If you ask intermediate to advanced level questions, they’ll likely be impressed with your eagerness to learn more and diversify your non-legal business knowledge.
Being a good lawyer means listening to your clients
While accessibility, honesty, and industry expertise are important ways to make your clients happy, nothing is more important than listening to your clients themselves. Listening closely to your clients’ comments, ideas, thoughts and concerns will help you satisfy them more than reading this article ever could. So, open your ears next time you meet with or call a client and try to find out what they’re really saying– you might just be surprised by what you hear.
To learn more about law industry news and our career advice for lawyers of all ages, contact Boss Reporting today for a free consultation.
Look at Saul’s mistakes so you don’t have to make them yourself
While Saul Goodman’s ethically and financially-challenged character is certainly eccentric, that doesn’t mean that Better Call Saul’s main character doesn’t have a few real-life lessons to teach lawyers– especially those trying to grow their clientele, as Saul (unsuccessfully) tries to do during the show’s first two seasons.
So, what exactly can a TV-show character teach us about getting more quality clients? Let’s find out.
Target clients and projects who can give you reasonable amounts of work
In one episode of Better Call Saul, Saul spent a ridiculously long time listening to a client who’s only going to pay him $140 for a will. Considering that many good lawyers and firms charge well over that amount for an hour of work, it clearly isn’t efficient to take on clients that require lots of personal time investment unless they can provide you a reasonably large amount of income. If for example, you’re just starting out as a solo practitioner, it can be tempting to take any job that comes (even if it pays $50), but this strategy simply isn’t effective in the long term.
It’s important to realize that each client and project you have requires a significant amount of time due to logistical and administrative factors. For example, if a lawyer desires a revenue of $200,000, it’s better to have 20 clients paying $10,000, than 400 clients paying $500. Therefore, even if you’re just starting out, it may be a good idea to set a lower limit– perhaps $500- $1,000 for work you’ll take– unless you’re doing a special favor for friends, family members, or professional colleagues.
Check out your sales leads before investing (or wasting) time in a meeting
If Saul had pre-screened the client who was only willing to give him $140, he might have been smart enough not to take the appointment. That’s why you should determine if what a potential client can offer you is lucrative before agreeing to meet with them in person. If possible, discover a client’s name, profession, the exact nature of their legal situation, and any information about their ability to pay you before taking a meeting. While you need to gather information, you don’t want to seem like you’re interrogating a client, so you’ll want to be subtle and respectful when trying to solicit personal information from potential clients before they’ve hired you.
It’s often a good idea to have someone else speak to clients before you do, if possible, so that you don’t have to directly say yes or no to a client. Therefore, asking clients to fill out a form on your website, or having them speak to a secretary or legal assistant with good phone skills, are both good ways to question clients before agreeing to an in-person meeting.
Advertise to the right clientele
In another entertaining episode of Better Call Saul, Saul puts up a billboard to advertise his legal services. At first, Saul is excited about all the calls he’s getting about potential legal work. However, he soon realizes that most of the people who’ve called him are ne’er-do-wells who don’t have more than a few dollars to offer him for his services. In the real world of legal marketing, targeting the wrong audience is a serious concern. The goal is to have people purchasing legal services, not just to get your name out there (though reputational marketing can sometimes have a place in a law firm’s overall marketing strategy).
That’s why you need to actively do research to determine the correct target demographic to which you market your legal services. This can vary significantly due to factors like geographic location, you or your firm’s personal network, and the types of law you or your firm practices. It may help to enlist a marketing firm or advertising agency with experience handling legal clientele to develop strategies and campaigns that can effectively target the right audience with marketing techniques including social media promotions, online video advertising, and print and television ad campaigns.
In the end, talking and advertising to the right clients can help protect your law firm’s brand
After taking a variety of undesirable clients and trying various off-kilter marketing campaigns, Saul’s reputation wasn’t at all where he wanted it to be. That’s why taking high-paying clients with good reputations and creating professional and appropriate marketing campaigns isn’t just important for your law firm’s short term success, it’s also important to preserve your firm’s long-term reputation and economic viability. As soon as your firm develops a reputation for being ‘less than professional,’ your ability to market yourself is significantly reduced– so you always want to make sure potential clients and professional colleagues see you in the best light.
To learn more about marketing strategies for lawyers and law firms and our career advice for lawyers at of all stages, contact Boss Reporting today for a free consultation.
Set boundaries, improve communication with clients during work hours, and don’t be afraid to turn off your phone.
Whether you’re a solo practitioner, run a small firm, or are part of a large legal organization, one thing is a constant; legal clients can be incredibly demanding. While it can be difficult to say no to clients who want to consult with you on nights, weekends, or holidays, setting boundaries in the beginning of the relationship is essential to make sure that both you and your client have reasonable expectations of each other.
If you work for a large firm and aren’t part of the management team, it may be difficult or impossible to prevent clients from invading your free time, but if you have an understanding boss, you still may be able to incorporate several strategies to help maintain a healthier work-life balance.
Set work hours and exceptions before an emergency happens.
Creating specific work hour boundaries is a great first step in setting the tone for a healthy and balanced attorney-client relationship. While optimal hours for each attorney depends on their personal habits, office hours, work preferences, and other factors, they usually run between 8-10am and 4-6pm– so if you’re available around 8 hours a day, 4-5 days a week, you’re giving your clients a wide variety of potential times to contact you.
Of course, since law is a high-stakes field, you will often have to accommodate for emergencies in some circumstances– at least in some types of law. However, some clients might see any case development as an emergency, so it’s also important to define in advance what counts as an emergency and how they should contact you in those specific situations.
Improve the quality of communications so you don’t need as much quantity.
When a client consistently wants to contact their attorney during nights, weekends, and holidays, it’s not usually to ensure their case is going well (even though they might say so). Legal cases can be tedious and are often slow moving– and cases rarely (though occasionally) have breakthroughs that need to be dealt with immediately.
Often a client’s reasons for contacting you at these times have to do with anxiety or insecurity about either the viability of their case or your ability to do your job as an attorney. Therefore, boosting a client’s confidence in your abilities– and keeping them well-informed about the status of their cases may be able to prevent the after-hours calls. Basically, if a client feels that they’re getting enough out of you during work hours, they’re not as likely to feel the need to contact you at random times.
Keep separate phone lines and find an effective voicemail service.
Keeping a separate phone number for work can be one of the best ways to prevent after-hours communications from clients. If you’ve already set your boundaries and given both a business and personal phone number to clients, they’re far less likely to call your personal line unless it truly is an emergency.
Additionally, voicemail is an excellent way for clients to feel like they’re in communication with you without disrupting your personal time. Often clients don’t necessarily need to hear specific information from you– they simply want to share an idea, concern, or a few thoughts with you, and leaving a voicemail is a great way to do that.
Specify email response times as well as phone times.
Clients may also attempt to contact you via email during off-hours– and if you’re inclined to answer immediately, this might also cut into your personal time during nights and weekends. Much like setting a time for phone calls, you can also set times for email responses. Depending on you and your clients’ preferences and needs, these hours can be the same or different than your phone hours. For example, if some of your legal cases are incredibly high-stakes and daily developments may seriously affect the viability and success of your client’s case, you may wish to set aside an hour on weekends to answer emails from a specific list of high-priority clients.
Setting boundaries can improve your happiness– as well as the quality of your work as lawyer.
While you might think that being available 24/7 is the best way you can help your clients, you could be sabotaging the quality of your work by doing so. Taking time off work, whether via taking a relaxing vacation, or by simply making the most of your nights and weekends, has been scientifically proven to correlate with higher productivity at work.
So, if you want better results for both yourself and your law clients, it pays to stop working when you’re off-the clock. Even if they aren’t enthusiastic about it at first, your clients will eventually realize that the increased attention, care, and focus you’ll be able to give them as a happier, more balanced individual is worth losing the ability to contact you at 11pm on a Saturday night.
To learn more about law practice management strategies and career advice for lawyers, contact Boss Reporting today for a free consultation.
Outdated designs, disorganized layouts, messes, and more office faux pas
Having a dirty, disorganized, or less than fashionable office may not affect your firm’s ability to perform quality work– but it could interfere with your efforts to woo new clients and maintain current client relationships. While making your office more visually appealing might seem like it should be the last thing on your list of priorities, the way your office – and staff – looks – sends a strong message to clients about your ability to get the job done, especially in a client-facing profession like law.
1. If your office reeks of the 80s, your clients can smell it. It might be time for a facelift.
Aged brown office chairs, a tan carpet with coffee stains, and walls painted the color of a hospital in bad need of renovation: if this describes your office, you might need to make some serious changes. A good law office needn’t be fancy– but it should look clean, comfortable, and relatively modern. Otherwise, it looks like your firm isn’t doing well enough to afford new office chairs and a fresh paint job. Even if it isn’t, that’s not the impression you want to give to potential clients.
If you are on a budget, simply purchasing some relatively new office chairs from a discount office supply store, buying some new-ish tables, chairs, lamps, and decorations for a waiting room can often make a huge difference on how your office is perceived by others. Of course, if you have the cash, a full-blown redesign might be a good investment, but it isn’t the only way to improve the look, feel, and attractiveness of your office environment.
2. Grey cubicles may not send the right message to clients.
While grey cubicles are still standard fare for a great many law offices, they might not be sending the right message to clients. In today’s ultra-competitive market, firms want to show that they’re innovative, efficient, collaborative and won’t hesitate to communicate with clients on a regular basis. Tall, grey cubicles usually send the opposite message. Instead, you might want to opt for a more open work area in which clients and other visitors can see the firm’s attorneys at work. If the budget’s right and/or you’re managing a smaller firm the addition of glass, both for interior and exterior facing offices, can increase natural light and can lend your firm’s office a more open, modern, and collaborative appearance.
3. Messy workers and disorganized desk areas can make a bad impression, too.
Even if your office is somewhat modern and cubicle-free, if it’s messy, it still won’t send the right message to clients. Regardless of how effective you and your colleagues are at practicing law– if you can’t clean up your desks, clients may begin to question your professional abilities. Practicing law can get messy– and while your desk doesn’t have to look like it came out of the latest issue of Architectural Digest, it should look somewhat organized. This also goes for document rooms, break areas, office kitchens, and other places that can easily be seen by waiting clients.
4. No decorations (or the wrong decorations) could make clients feel uncomfortable.
If your law office is sterile like a medical lab, it might not make clients feel so great about trusting you with their cases. That said, if your office is filled with strange, offensive, or off-putting decorations, it won’t help you either. To give your office a little more character, fill walls (especially near entrances) with paintings, drawings, prints, or other artwork– but avoid anything with a strong political or religious message (unless you know for sure that it aligns with the views of your clientele).
Plants, as long as they’re watered, trimmed, and regularly maintained, can breathe some fresh life into a dull office, while pictures of family members and other tasteful desk decorations can also help give your office a bit of character.
Decorating a law office isn’t rocket science– but many lawyers simply don’t pay attention
While it might sound odd, the way your firm’s office looks is simply another weapon in your marketing arsenal– and another way to reinforce your firm’s image and its competitive advantage in the minds of your clients. Your office doesn’t have to look like the Taj Mahal to satisfy clients- it just must be comfortable, up-to-date, and professional. Changing-up an aesthetically displeasing law office usually takes less time, money, and effort than you might think.
You deserve a law firm that thrives. Contact Boss Reporting today to learn more about effective law firm management tips and other career advice for lawyers.
Planning, communication, and setting boundaries are all key
You might be neat, but that doesn’t mean your co-workers are– and especially in a high-stakes, high-stress profession like law, an untidy business partner can give you anxiety– not to mention turning off clients and other important people who visit your office on a regular basis.
So, what do you do about the mess? You could go ballistic, but that won’t help you or your law partner and it’s unlikely to get you the reaction you want– a cleaner office. Instead, consider opening up the lines of communication between you and your law partner to determine the root of the issue and try to settle on a solution that can satisfy both of your needs.
Talk to your law partner– but remain calm and respectful
The first step in the de-cluttering process is simply to speak to your law partner about the issue. It’s best to do this in a calm, friendly, and non-confrontational manner. Mention what you’ve noticed, why it’s impeding the firm’s goals, and ask if there is anything you can do to help. Sometimes, a gentle reminder or a small nudge is all it takes for someone to get their desk and the surrounding office neat, organized, and efficient.
If a simple reminder doesn’t work, try to get to the root of the problem
If you’ve tried bringing up your partner’s mess multiple times– but you haven’t seen the progress you’d like, it may be time to investigate the source of his or her messiness. If you can find the root of the problem, you might be able to help. For example, if your partner is suffering from a deluge of legal paperwork, like case files, research, or other documents, you may want to try to transition the office to a more efficient, easy-to-organize software program, and having an office assistant or paralegal scan and file current documents to store digitally, in order to reduce the volume of the mess.
If your partner simply doesn’t have a good system for organizing files, offer to help create one, or teach/reinforce the system that the rest of the office currently uses. If you or your partner has an assistant, this is another opportunity for them to help out. See if you can have them (with your partner’s permission) do a daily, weekly, or monthly filing session to completely organize your partner’s desk area and put away old, unnecessary, or duplicate files. You might also want to gently suggest habits and systems that have helped you keep your desk from getting messy– if you really are neater than them. They might be able to learn a thing or two.
If all else fails, consider offering to organize your partner’s desk area yourself
While it’s far from an ideal solution, if you simply cannot find another way to get your law partner’s area clean, you may need to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself. Once again, it’s good idea to get your partner’s permission before you do this, as some people are incredibly sensitive about their desk areas. You wouldn’t want to accidently throw out something extremely important that you mistakenly believed was trash.
If no progress has been made, attempt to conceal your partner’s mess with a little re-organization
If, even after doing this, your partner remains messy, consider moving or re-designing your office to conceal his or her mess. If your office is very small and/or has a completely open layout, this could be a big challenge– but you’ll likely be able to make the office look somewhat less of a mess when your clients come to visit. One great way to do this is to set up an office partition– basically a small, moveable wall that can separate your partner’s area from your own, even if you’re in the same room.
If you do have the luxury of working in a large office with multiple rooms, you probably won’t need a partition to make effective changes. Instead, try to move your partner or switch offices with them in order to keep them away from entrances, waiting rooms, main areas, and elevators– basically anywhere where your clients can see just how messy he or she is.
Dealing with a messy law partner can be challenging, but progress can be made with effort and a good strategy
With studies indicating that 33% of workers clean their desk only once a year, messy co-workers are an incredibly common problem in a variety of industries– and law is no different. When trying to communicate with your law partner about his or her messiness, remember to stay calm and avoid anger– and remember, their desk doesn’t need to be spotless; it just needs to be somewhat presentable.
Scientific research suggests that some people actually work more efficiently and effectively in a cluttered or messy environment, so you’ll want to strike a balance between keeping a clean office and letting your partner have an environment that’s optimized for his or her personal tastes and work needs. And, if all else fails– you can always hire a professional organizer– or find a new law partner.
If you want to learn more about law firm management techniques, career advice for lawyers, and updates on the state of the legal industry, Boss Reporting has you covered– simply contact us today for a free consultation.