- Effective client communication is a topic that can be easily overlooked in the day-to-day management of a firm but can play a major role in its success — or failure. Today’s clients demand a higher level of professional, timely customer service and firms that ignore this trend do so at their own peril.
- These days, one of the biggest challenges that lawyers face is meeting their client’s communication needs. In fact, the failure to adequately communicate is one of the top state bar complaints made by clients against lawyers. This has always been the case but in recent years has been compounded by the fact that 21st century consumers have access to whatever they want, no matter what time of day or night. Whether it’s information, instant streaming of music, movies, and televisions shows, or 24/7 online shopping, today’s consumers can get whatever they want–whenever they want it. Legal clients are no different.
At the end of the day legal consumers want instant access — not to a product that they’ve purchased — but to information about the legal services that they’ve retained you to provide. In other words — they want to know what’s going on with their case. Can you blame them? They’ve paid you a lot of money and simply want to know where things stand. But, how best to do that? Sometimes another’s client’s case takes precedence or you’re stuck in court all day. It’s a fact of life — attorneys are busy. Sometimes you’re too pressed for time and simply can’t call them back immediately.
However, your client’s need for 24/7 access to information must be balanced with the requirement to maintain attorney-client confidentiality, a concept that is the very foundation of relationships between lawyers and their clients. Client trust would be eroded in the absence of this strict obligation of maintaining confidentiality. It is only because clients know that their communications with legal counsel are deemed confidential that they’re able to provide their attorneys with a full description of the underlying facts and issues that lead them to seek assistance in the first place.
The good news is that with different all of the 21st century technologies, you have a lot of options when it comes to client communications — the trick is knowing which ones will be best for your law firm’s needs. If you haven’t given much thought to the effectiveness of your client communications previously, incorporating a few new tools and techniques into your client interactions is a great place to start. Here are a few ideas.
1. Ditch the landline. That’s right. Get rid of your law firm’s landline. It’s tough to cut the cord after so many years of using it, but it’ll save you time, money, and hassles. With VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) you have far greater flexibility and mobility. You can forward calls to your mobile or home phone, receive messages in different formats, and manage calls on the go. Whether you choose to go with Google Voice, Ring Central, Ooma or another service, you have plenty of choices. Here’s a great article from PC Magazine that helps you sort through the most popular VOIP providers.
2. Use client portals. Don’t forget about using web-based portals to supplement phone calls and streamline communications for your law firm. With online portals, which are far more secure way to communicate with clients than traditional email, your clients have access to their case-related information 24/7 and can often obtain what they’re seeking, avoiding a call to your office altogether.
When you’re not available to answer a client’s call immediately, web portals can provide them with 24/7 secure access to their case information. Online portals make it easy for clients to quickly and securely find answers to many common questions, effectively streamlining the communications process and cutting down on the inevitable back-and-forth phone tag. For example, clients no longer have to call the office just to request a copy of a document in their file — they can access the entire file at their convenience in the portal.
3. Replace your full-time receptionist. Don’t get me wrong–receptionists can be an important part of providing good client service. When someone walks in the door, being greeted by a human being is oftentimes the best solution. But you don’t necessarily need a full-time receptionist. Many solo and small law firms can get by with a part-time receptionist or even forgo one altogether, as long as you’ve got a system in place to provide the information and support that current and potential clients need.
For many law firms, virtual receptionists are a great alternative. Instead of hiring someone in-house to answer your phones, you outsource this task to a company that will do it for you. There are many services that will do this for you — it’s simply a matter of finding the right one for your needs. This post is a great place to start.
Also, consider using an AI personal assistant for certain types of scheduling issues, such as when a potential client emails you or contacts you via an online form. The AI assistant can respond and schedule the initial intake appointment for you, leaving you with one less thing to worry about. A popular one to consider is x.ai. I recently interacted with this AI assistant when scheduling a meeting and found that it worked quite well.
4. Make the most of your interactions with clients. Effective communication with clients isn’t something that most lawyers think about. This trend starts in law school, where the focus tends to be on substantive law and legal theory. If communication is even mentioned, it’s in the context of oral argument to the court or written memos of law. The importance of clear communication with clients isn’t often discussed and the techniques for doing so are rarely fodder for classroom discussion or CLEs.
That’s unfortunate because communicating effectively can reduce misunderstandings and improve the client relationship. One way to learn more about effective client communication skills is to read the book “Client Science: Advice for Lawyers on Counseling Clients through Bad News and Other Legal Realities” by Marjorie Corman Aaron. In it she offers helpful analysis and recommendations based on scientific studies focused on effective communication techniques, including the following tips:
1. Once you deliver bad news, stop acting like a lawyer. Instead, the next time you deliver bad news to a client, step back, take a deep breath, and give your client some space — and empathy.
2. Your front office can have a big impact. The best way to ensure that you start off every interaction with your clients on a positive note, it’s important to ensure that the gateway to the appointment is pleasant and welcoming.
3. Avoid creating unreasonable client expectations. One of the easiest ways to avoid making this mistake is to avoid mentioning concrete numbers from the very outset.
So, when it comes to better client communication, there are lots of steps you can take. Certainly your options aren’t limited to the ones I’ve suggested, but they’re a good place to start.