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After twenty years as general counsel of a financial institution and a large medical center, I have heard plenty of complaints from our executives about working with outside counsel. In my opinion, some complaints were justified and some were not. Here is a list of the most common (justified) complaints I heard over those two decades:
- Don’t keep the client in the dark. Clients hate surprises. Keep them informed regarding their matters. If they have to read your monthly invoice to figure out what you have been working on for them, they will not be happy.
- Don’t be “absent without leave.” When a client calls or emails you, respond. If you are in trial or out of town, have a backup plan to respond to the client’s request. Clients hate to be ignored.
- Don’t be disrespectful to anyone at your client’s company. Sounds simple, but I have heard legal assistants and secretaries complain on many occasions because an outside lawyer berated them over a late response regarding a discovery request or not getting enough “good legal work” from the company.
- Don’t make billing difficult for the client. Be on time, clear and accurate. My companies lived fiscal year to fiscal year on a set budget. Billing late threatens that fiscal year’s budget, and being unclear or inaccurate creates distrust in the relationship.
- Don’t avoid your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. But not communicating with your client about them will get you fired or, at the very least, not hired again. Do not blame someone else and always communicate a plan to correct the mistake.
While those five complaints will get you bumped from the approved counsel list, these three steps will help keep you hired:
- Make your client’s life easier. We say it all the time, but it bears repeating (again). It may be through your legal work, CLE, finding a new legal assistant or something else, but find a way to make their lives easier.
- Find out what the client values and provide it. Different clients value different things, but you only learn what’s most important by asking and then meeting those needs.
- Strive for exceptional knowledge of the client’s business and industry. In order to provide the best legal advice and business counsel, you must spend the time getting to know the client’s business and challenges.
Keeping (or losing) clients is often as straightforward as these tips. Don’t lose sight of the fundamental client service principals, and you’ll find yourself in productive long-term relationships with your clients.