The year is still new, but the refrain remains the same. Lawyers in firms are finally back at work, catching up from the protracted holiday break and now excited about the promise the new year brings. Yet I’ve already had the conversation with a client about the “attitude” busy lawyers have when they are, well, busy. And when lawyers feel busy, they stop thinking about what to do when they are less busy, and even worse, they stop thinking about being proactive.
In the best client relationships, the themes remain very consistent over time and always include a version of the lawyer understanding the client’s business.
The lawyers who have the highest loyalty and who best understand their clients’ businesses are the ones that take the time, no matter the time of year or how busy they are, to be relentlessly inquisitive about their clients’ needs. They don’t wait for the client to call. They invest time in the relationship and bring ideas, strategy and insight to the relationship.
Clients hate to call their lawyers for many reasons, but it’s most often because something is already a problem, it wasn’t expected or it can’t be solved without a lot of outside counsel expense. Great client service is all about being there, being available and adding value. Every outside counsel I know wants to be positioned as the trusted advisor and a go-to resource for their clients’ needs, but many lawyers fail because they are not proactive or focused on the client. I have had clients say to me, “I know I should call more often to talk about some of these problems, but it just always feels like a painful process where I have to explain myself and our business goals, and at the end of the day I get some generic written advice that doesn’t help me make a decision on how to move forward.”
“The lawyers who have the highest loyalty and who best understand their clients’ businesses are the ones that take the time to be relentlessly inquisitive about their clients’ needs.”
Contrast that with this example of extraordinary client loyalty: Last fall I spoke with a general counsel who said, “I was doing a deal, and I asked my lawyer to just be available and charge me for that time. I am in Asia and they are on the East Coast, and it meant they were in their office all night, but just knowing they were there gave me peace of mind. I called twice, and both calls took about 20 minutes, and the 12 hours I paid to have them there were priceless.”
Clients want you to be prepared to answer their questions, whether they are about how you will manage a project, solve a problem, help them take advantage of an opportunity or mitigate risk. They want you to know them and their businesses. The only way to accomplish this is to take the time to meet with them, talk about their needs and discuss whatever challenges they anticipate.
Regardless of whether your clients hate to call or never call, now is the time to pick up the phone, call them and schedule time to talk about what you can do for them in 2016 to make their lives easier. After all, that’s really what client service is all about.