When you're trying to differentiate yourself in the legal market today, one of the best ways is to have truly stellar customer service. Giving clients a uniquely good customer experience will ensure that you'll have plenty of good reviews and will build new business through word of mouth and referrals. In this guide, we'll explore seven contemporary best practices for building a consumer oriented law firm. While implementing these practices may not always be easy—especially if you're deeply entrenched in a law firm culture that feels toxic to clients or staff—they will pay off over the long term.
#1: Friendly Service At Every Desk
One of the mistakes that attorneys can sometimes make about customer service has to do with who needs customer service skills. It's not just your attorneys who need to understand how to interact professionally and courteously with clients. Every secretary and paralegal in your firm needs to have a positive, customer focused attitude that matches the overall client orientation that your law firm is trying to project.
All too often, even if an attorney's customer service is great, a bad customer service experience with other people in your firm's office can sour a client's experience. Attorneys should make sure that they're not trying to save money by paying less and hiring inexperienced people or those with less than stellar customer service skills. If an inexperienced person causes a client to walk away, you'll have lost a lot more money than if you'd hired someone who was skilled with clients to begin with.
#2: Keep Staff Morale High
Part of making sure that your clients are getting the best possible service is making sure that your staff is kept happy. An overworked staff is not going to be as competent at handling clients as one that is well rested and maintains a good work life balance.
While staff morale won't always be perfect, it's also important to foster an environment that encourages good communication. This ensures that small issues in office politics won't become large issues that threaten the overall morale or cohesion of your law firm. Keep communication channels open from partners to staff members so that there are no big surprises. When people feel they are informed and kept in the loop, they'll be more likely to present the kind of customer service attitudes you want your clients to see.
#3: Don't Play Hard to Get
There's never an excuse to get far behind on your calls and emails. Clients can easily become alienated by attorneys who take forever to get back to them, and you're unlikely to receive positive reviews from clients who felt like it was an uphill battle just to get you to take their calls. The best way to make sure that you're customer focused, more than any other single piece of advice, is to take calls as often as possible and return emails within a reasonable timeframe.
Typically, you should aim to respond to most calls and emails on the same day that you receive them. While some responses—especially to questions asked toward the end of the day—may take until the next business day, there's no reason that you should ever wait longer than one extra day to respond. If the question is going to require research that may take some time, you still need to respond to inform the client that you are doing the research, that they have not been forgotten, and that you will get back to them as soon as you have an answer to their query.
#4: Get Involved In Community Events
Another way to help yourself build a reputation in the community—a reputation that will help cement your brand as a client focused law firm—is to make yourself visible as a community leader. Involve yourself in some charitable causes and sponsor community events and teams. You may also want to make yourself available to give talks on areas of the law you're an expert in.
By becoming a visible presence around your town or neighborhood, you give yourself added name recognition. In some situations, it can be substantially less expensive to get your name into the public consciousness this way than through traditional forms of advertising. What's more, this kind of community involvement gives you clearer name recognition than just putting your name and face on public transit or in the Yellow Pages.
This is a particularly good way to get clients if you're working in a rural area or have a practice that depends on large numbers of older clients. This can mean that many online marketing ideas won't really bring in the clients you're depending on, and offline measures become critically important.
#5: Work Pro Bono Cases
While you can't do everything for free or take cases without regard for a client's ability to pay, you should always be thinking about whether a case may be worth taking on a pro bono basis. Pro bono cases should usually be the kinds of case that will stretch and push you without pushing so far that they're beyond your ability level. You should consider taking cases pro bono if you believe that they may help you make a name for yourself in the local legal community.
Keep in mind that just because a case will attract a lot of publicity doesn't mean you're obligated to take it on a pro bono basis. Ask a trusted mentor for advice about taking a case if you're worried it's too far outside your wheelhouse.
#6: Responsive Social Media Channels
When you're using social networking websites like LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, you should make sure that you're keeping an eye on your firm's name and any relevant hashtags to make sure that if you're being talked about, you know what's being said. You shouldn't always interfere—for example, if people are giving you compliments, it's often better to just stay out of it—but you should make sure that you're always listening. If someone has a complaint or a question, feel free to respond to it in a positive, constructive manner. This will give you a better online reputation and make it more likely that people seeing your social media presence will want to hire you.