Ahh, the early years of legal practice. Remember them? Sure, the money was tight, and we scrambled and sweated for every client. But look at the royal treatment we gave those clients we did manage to sign on!
We read everything they sent us, we researched every nuance of their case. We remembered the names of their babies and dogs and their favorite flavor of reception-desk candy. We gave them our cell phone numbers and answered their calls, at any hour.
And bathing clients in this kind of attention was completely possible! — when we only had a handful of them.
Eventually, for most of us, that kind of attention paid off. Clients came back, and referred friends our way. We figured out some good marketing plans, too. Business picked up.
But for attorneys riding the wave of growth, there is a cost. As caseloads increase, days become ever more tightly packed. Details of cases blur together in your brain, or escape from your memory completely. You shuffle more of the communication load onto staff members. You get a little stingy with your cell phone number.
As a firm grows, often the very behaviors at the foundation of its success begin to crumble.
Most lawyers are complicit with this trade-off.
Their reasoning goes: although we can’t give clients the same level of personal attention, we’re learning and getting better at our work. We have more experience, more confidence. It takes us less time to analyze the strengths of a case.
It’s true that this kind of experience and maturity matter. And perhaps trading a little client-service for higher caseloads is a perfectly fine deal — for attorneys who want to plateau their practice, stop their growth, and keep a sort of middling reputation in their community.
If you’re still reading, it’s probably because that’s not you.
Attorneys who want to rise to the top of their field can’t skimp on client service. They know that as soon as client satisfaction slips from the center of a practice, that firm is, at best, second rate (and, at worse, a malpractice lawsuit waiting to happen).
So what do the truly great attorneys do? How can they hold onto old-school small-firm client service when their practice grows up?
Through something I call the Client Service Hybrid.
This is a hybrid of something old and something new. The old: tried and true practices and principles to nurture client satisfaction. The new: cutting-edge tech.
Here are six examples to show what I mean:
- Speak their language.
Good attorneys have always known that tedious legalese gives clients the shivers. Your clients are making huge life decisions: they need to hear their options in plain English.
But that’s not the only situation where you need to speak your client’s language. Here’s where tech comes in. Do your clients send you messages on Facebook? Do your clients want to text you or do they prefer email? Modern case management technology can bring together all communication with your client in one file, and allow you to respond in their preferred manner.
And new legal tech has other ways for you to meet your clients where they are. Take the issue of signatures: instead of coming into the office and taking up the time of a staff member or attorney, clients can sign their documents on their cell phones, using selfies to verify e-signatures. It’s easier and more convenient for everyone.
And of course, you can speak their language in a literal sense as well. Powerful new translation tools can also help your practice expand and diversify beyond the monolingual.
- Ease the Onramp:
A spanking new attorney with an empty schedule might be immediately available to shake the hand of any potential client who called or walked in off the street. But that kind of hand-shaking can’t scale.
It’s not enough to simply hire staff or agencies who can do intake for you. You also need technology to record, document, and seamlessly deliver a client into other hands in the legal team. Without these systems, you risk the frustration and disorientation of a client feeling like they’re being shuffled from one stranger to the next.
Nearly half of all bar complaints allege a “failure to communicate.”
At a certain caseload level, you probably can’t give your cell phone number out to every client. You can’t pledge to answer their calls at any moment.
But tech can open up some communication hacks. For instance: case management software can gather every message coming in from your client, and allow any member of their legal team to respond at their earliest convenience.
From the client’s perspective, they only see a rapid response with the most up-to-date information.
- Know the deets:
As your legal team grows, internal communication becomes exponentially more important. Nothing erodes client confidence like a staff member who says something at odds with the last person they talked to.
Case management software helps bridge the gaps by keeping your client details in an accessible, secure, cloud-based file. Each member of the legal team should have instant access, in real time, to the latest developments on the case, organized in a clear and intuitive way.
Another way that technology helps bring details to light is through ever-improving e-discovery. For any case, there are huge amounts of discoverable data. If you’re going to hound down the details that will make your case, you not only need to understand the gadgets and apps that record our lives — you likely also need technology-assisted review and new artificial intelligence tools to parse through that data.
- Shed some light:
Clients hate being kept in the dark. Show your love by keeping clients informed. Maybe you no longer have the time for frequent meetings and phone calls with all your clients — but you can instead invite them directly into their case file through your case management platform. That way they can personally witness the actions being taken on their case, and are more likely to appreciate the hard work that usually happens behind-the-scenes.
- Request feedback:
Clients have always liked to be asked for their opinion. But now you can move beyond closing convos or evaluation forms to texting them a link to a Net Promoter Score survey.
Data analysis technology can also be used to parse information on your clients’ needs and responses, and to help make decisions about how to better serve your clients well into the future.
Give the Hybrid a try.
Aspiring attorneys are rarely taught the softer arts of client care in law school. We also tend to start practice without understanding the management benefits of legal tech. Like so many other skills, these are the things we must learn on-the-job.
But with attention to the marriage of old truths and new tech, we can create a powerful practice that not only brings us professional satisfaction — but also helps a whole lot of people.
As a personal injury attorney with Bighorn Law, Ryan Anderson has tried and resolved cases totaling millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements. As the co-founder of Filevine, he creates case management solutions that rock.
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