Eight Important Reminders from General Counsel

By John Remsen, Jr.

It’s always gratifying to hear what clients have to say when it comes to client service, marketing and business development. That’s because they invariably underscore everything we preach to lawyers about the importance of providing great service as a marketing and business development strategy. Great client service is, perhaps, the most effective “marketing” a lawyer (and a law firm) can implement. If you take good care of today’s clients, the theory goes, they’ll keep coming back, and they’ll refer you to their friends and colleagues.

It is important to understand that I’m taking about quality service, not quality work product. There is a big difference. I assume that you are a competent lawyer and are capable of providing a quality work product. Therefore, the way to truly distinguish yourself (and your firm) in the marketplace is to provide high quality service. Lousy service is the number one reason clients fire law firms, and there are dozens of surveys and reports concluding that most lawyers don’t do a very good job in this area.

Recently, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel of three general counsels at a client’s Firm Retreat. The GCs represented three different industries — higher education, outdoor advertising and agriculture — and they had varying levels of experience as in-house counsels. And, like most GCs with whom I have spoken, they had remarkably similar opinions on the subjects of client service, marketing and business development.

Here are eight important reminders they shared with the audience. I wanted to pass them along to you, our loyal readers, as our Marketing Tip of the Month.

I Hire Lawyers, Not Law Firms
I hear this all the time and numerous studies back up the notion that, generally speaking, clients hire lawyers, not law firms. They hire lawyers they know, like and trust. That means you — not your firm and not your marketing department — need to get out there and cultivate relationships with individuals in a position to hire and/or refer a lawyer with your expertise. It’s all about relationships.

Be There When I Need You
Clients demand responsiveness…and in this day and age of cell phones, blackberries and 24/7 access to the internet, their expectations have risen dramatically in recent years. This particular panel of general counsels said they expect a return phone call within four hours. It wasn’t that long ago when 24 hours would have been an acceptable time frame to get back to a client. The pace of business will continue to get faster, and there is little room to hide anymore.

Do What You Say You Are Going to Do
It drives people — including your valued clients — crazy when you don’t follow through and deliver the goods as promised. Always meet your deadlines and follow through on your commitments. Set realistic expectations and try your best to over-deliver whenever possible. If you run into a tough spot and can’t meet a commitment, let your client know in advance. Most of the time, it will be OK. Don’t wait for the client to call you after you’ve missed a deadline. It won’t be good.

Get to Know Me
Clients value lawyers who make the effort and take the time to get to know as much as possible about them and their companies. Your objective is to become an indispensable trusted advisor…part of the team. Obviously you can’t do this for every single client, but it’s a good idea to do it for your top five. Do some research. Schedule a Client Site Visit. Monitor the company’s activities in the media. Get to know your client’s people, policies and procedures, as well as its business goals and objectives. Find ways to add value to the relationship.

Don’t Surprise Me
Here, we’re talking mostly about that higher than average invoice or the bad news that you don’t promptly report to the client. Clients hate surprises, so you should try to eliminate them as much as possible. If there is an unexpected turn of events, let the client know up front and as soon as possible.

Make Me Look Good
In house counsels, like most lawyers, have big egos. They like to look good in front of their bosses. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to make them look good, even if you disagree with their decisions or their strategy on a particular matter. Like it or not, they make — or at least influence — the company’s decisions on which lawyers to hire.

Consider the Economics of the Matter
A $40,000 invoice to resolve a $15,000 lawsuit? It happens more often than you might think. Make sure work is properly delegated to the right lawyer in your firm and be sensitive to the economics of a matter. Don’t “over lawyer” the file. It makes no economic sense whatsoever. Besides, clients hate it.

Finally, Be Nice to My Staff
Always be kind, courteous and respectful to your clients’ secretaries, paralegals and staff. They have more influence than you might think, and you just never know where or when you’ll run into them in the future.

If you practice these simple rules, you will keep the clients that you want to keep and develop a reputation as a great lawyer who provides great service. And that’s a good thing.

About the Author
John Remsen, Jr. is President of TheRemsenGroup, a marketing consulting firm that works exclusively with law firms to help them attract and retain the clients they want. He can be reached at 404.885.9100 or JRemsen@TheRemsenGroup.com.