New Slang: How to Talk to Clients in the 21st Century

The on-demand economy is everywhere you look.

If you wanted to watch a movie at home in 2003, you drove to Blockbuster, and selected one from the shelves.  If you want to watch a movie at home in 2017, and you’re feeling nostalgic, RedBox offers Blockbuster, in a big (red) box, with titles starting at $1/day.  (Imagine that: what once was a whole entire store is now just a kiosk, only slightly bigger than a breadbox.)  And, if you’re not feeling nostalgic, just fire up your smartphone (well, you will), and watch any of a million titles, on demand, via your Netflix account.

Yet, while vendors in other industries continue to miniaturize, and to revise the way that consumers communicate with their services, lawyers haven’t changed very much at all about the way they engage with their clients.

In 2017, client service is a whole new ball of wax; your clients have more choices than ever before, and are savvier about making those choices than they have ever been.  Modern clients expect more from their lawyers now; and, if you haven’t reformed the way you engage with your clients to reflect the requirements of modern consumers, pay close attention to the following suggestions.

Explain Your Fee Agreements.  You might as well write your fee agreements in Sanskrit, because your clients have no idea what they mean.  They’re signing off because you’re the gatekeeper — and they at least know that the fee agreement is the key to starting up a professional relationship with you.  But, if you view this part of the process as a formality, you’re missing a golden opportunity to develop effective client communications, from the outset of the representation.  Instead of laying a confusing stack of paper in front of your new client, use a television monitor in your conference room to broadcast a copy of the fee agreement, while you explain relevant provisions.  Entertain questions, answer them fully.  Then, when you present your clients with a set of terms, it won’t only be on your terms.  Managing the fee agreement execution in this way sets a precedent for honesty and straightforwardness that will permeate the entire attorney-client relationship.

Communicate with Your Clients on Their Preferred Platforms.  Many law firms ask clients how they wish to receive information — then, they roundly ignore what their clients tell them, in favor of the law firm’s traditional, preferred methods.  When you ask your clients how they want to be informed about their cases, and they tell you, do what they say.  Not only will your clients be more likely to receive the notifications that you send, they’ll know for sure that you listen to them, and take their requests seriously.

Automate Notifications.  With the rise of law firm technology comes the ability to automate law practice processes.  The reason that modern client communications can be streamlined is because modern law office technology allows you to push notifications to clients merely by performing routine office tasks.  Publishing a document for a client’s review will generate an email notification.  Save a new letter and send an email (with the document attached) with the touch of one button.  Create a new calendar event and simultaneously invite a client to the meeting.  Not only does the technology increase the lawyer’s efficiency, it opens up more time and space for meaningful engagement with clients.

Document Everything.  Malpractice lawyers will tell you that your best defense against claims is documenting all case events and client interactions.  But, that’s not the only reason to do it.  Documenting everything about your client and her case means that you have more information at your fingertips, when you need it.  A modern case management software is a relationship database on steroids, and will provide (so long as you input the data) a chronological history of everything attached to a specific case, from documents to emails, to workflows to time and billing, and beyond.  The ability to jump into a case, and to, nearly instantaneously, have a compelling grasp of what’s going on is pretty much priceless.

Schedule Regular, Non-substantive Interactions.  When you document everything, you always have a case summary at your fingertips.  When you automate rote notifications, you have more time to talk with your clients.  So, make it a point to engage your clients on a regular basis.  Lawyers often make the mistake of only calling clients when they need information, or when they need money.  You know your clients hate that.  It makes them feel like ATMs.  Instead of contacting your clients only when you have to, schedule a standing call with each of your active clients.  If nothing in particular is going on with the case, you can >gasp< make small talk.  If you call your clients just to check in, they’ll know you care about them, as well as the money they’re paying; and, they’re bound to become more invested in the representation, to boot.

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In a best-case scenario, the attorney-client relationship is a partnership; and, the best way to build that partnership is the best way to build any partnership: regular, honest communication.

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