So, you started your own law firm. Congratulations! You’ve started a journey that other attorneys envy…and you’ve also taken on a lot of hard work for yourself.
Lawyers who practice in firms have it easy, don’t they? HR departments. Receptionists. Policy manuals. Clients…
That’s a big one, isn’t it?
While every law firm lives and dies with respect to clients, client relationships are much more critical for a solo attorney. You need to attract new business to keep a steady income stream, but the heavier your workload, the harder it is to give every client the level of service they want.
Let’s face it, you only have bandwidth for so many clients, and you need to stay pretty close to that maximum workload to pay your bills. If you lose one of your clients unexpectedly, that can have serious implications for your practice and your livelihood.
That’s why today we’re talking about law firm client management for solo attorneys.
Many of these tips are also valuable for paralegals and attorneys at larger firms, but these strategies are critical for lawyers running solo operations.
Be truly available to your clients
This tip might seem obvious, but not everybody practices the obvious.
We all know that ABA Model Rule 1.3 requires that “[a] lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.” What does that really mean though?
In the context of a solo attorney trying their best to represent clients, it means that you do a thorough job, that you communicate early and often, that you return phone calls and emails, and that you’re actually nice to your clients when you interact with them.
These may seem like such basic things, but haven’t we all seen attorneys who don’t do them? It’s awkward and uncomfortable to watch those attorneys in action. But you should watch them, and then slip their clients your card.
Give them something to brag about
I’ve always theorized that the reason some people pay the exorbitant prices charged by mega-firms is simply that they get to brag that they’re represented by a name-brand entity.
As a solo practitioner, you don’t have that luxury. That’s ok. Give your clients even better reasons to brag about you.
Maybe it is a string of recent trial victories, but it could just as easily be your charitable works or your good deeds in the community. You can earn professional accolades, cultivate media mentions, and build your reputation as a sought-after specialist.
Regardless of why you’re great, share that greatness with your clients – with humility, of course – and allow them to be proud that you are the one representing them.
Ask about client experiences with other attorneys
There wouldn’t be a million condescending lawyer jokes if lawyers weren’t historically awful at client management.
Your client picked you, a solo practitioner, for a reason. Why not ask them what their reasoning is during your law firm client onboarding process?
Specifically, ask them what their experiences were with prior lawyers and really listen to their answers. Then, as you absorb all the reasons they hated their other lawyer, take notes about those things so you can avoid these pitfalls while managing the lawyer-client relationship.
There’s no reason you have to make the same mistakes as your colleagues and predecessors. Your clients will be grateful for your insistence on doing a better job, and you’ll collect valuable knowledge that helps you build a sharper competitive advantage.
Be great at what you do
There is a huge temptation on the part of solo attorneys to be jacks of all trades; i.e., to take any client with any legal problem, regardless of your experience with the issue.
In some ways, that’s ok. Generalists have survived for as long as lawyers have existed. Law school taught us all to research and understand a multitude of issues.
That said, if you have a passion for a particular practice area, try to do that. Be the best at that. Be a thought leader in that discipline.
That way, when clients (or potential clients) come to you with a question, you can quickly and confidently give them an answer. Clients love confidence, and you can more easily build a reputation as an outstanding attorney in a specific practice area that you love.
It’s not just legal competence that makes you great. Also build your skills in customer service, communication, conflict de-escalation, public speaking, and any other business and people skills you use regularly. This kind of extra polish helps you stand out in all the right ways.
Study client management
Lawyers, like many professionals, have a tendency to focus solely on their craft.
If you’re a real estate attorney, for example, you may join the real estate section of your local bar association, attend conferences centered on real estate law, and diligently watch case developments that impact your practice.
Those are all great things to do and they are really important for your client relationships because they make you a better practitioner. That said, don’t forget that client management is a distinct part of your practice also.
It is a good idea to study client management principles and be prepared to implement them in your everyday practice.
Train your staff on client management
You may be a solo practitioner, but you probably work with other paraprofessionals regularly. There may be legal support staff on your payroll, or you might leverage freelance help to keep your workload in check. Either way, you’re responsible for the experience your clients have with those people.
If you’re going to commit to being a great client manager and offering superb customer service to your clients, you better make sure everyone who works on your behalf has that same ethic.
If not, all your efforts at client management can be lost through one unfortunate interaction with a staff member. Remember that your clients don’t know – or care about – the difference between work done by a freelance paralegal and the work you do yourself. It all reflects on you directly.
Set reasonable expectations
Perhaps above all, the best thing you can do as a solo practitioner to manage client relations is to simply meet your clients’ expectations.
If you say something is going to be done by a certain date, do it by then.
If you tell them you’re going to call at a certain time, call at that time.
Once your clients learn that they can trust their expectations of you, they will become much more relaxed and, hence, much easier to work with.
Clients can be difficult. They can be demanding. They can sometimes be unreasonable. Yet, at the end of the day, they are the reason we’re able to put food on the table. Looked at in that light, isn’t it worth some extra time and effort on your part to make sure their experience with you is a good one?