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Three Strategies to Transform Client Management

Three Strategies to Transform Your Approach to Client Management

One of the single most difficult things to learn as a junior lawyer is client management. There are many elements that go into it and each situation that you encounter is a bit different from the last. Strategies that worked with one client, may not work with another and each client you work with helps you hone those skills.

One could argue that almost every aspect of the practice of law relates back to client management in one form or another. You engage in client management from the first moment you speak to a client and continue with client management throughout the duration of a file.

Client management isn’t always about one particular client and how you’re going to work with them, but sometimes client management is broader. It can be a general approach to handling certain types of files; a particular way in which you market yourself or market your firm to your clients; or the way that you structure your day and how available you make yourself to your clients; and everything in between. Below are three strategies I use when I engage in client management.

1. The Best Compliment? A Referral

As a junior lawyer, one of the keys to career growth is building a book of clients and one of the best ways to do that is through referrals. It sounds counterintuitive but my approach to obtaining referrals, is not to focus on getting referrals.

What I mean by that is that I focus my efforts on the things that are within my control that contribute to my client’s overall experience. Think about when you’ve had an interaction with a service provider, do you tend to refer people to that service provider when you’ve had a neutral experience? Maybe, but when you’ve had a great or even outstanding experience with that service provider, you may find yourself going out of your way to tell people about the experience you had.

Lawyering is the same way. When you examine what some of the largest sources of ALIA complaints for lawyers are, many of them tie back to lack of responsiveness or failure to adequately manage client expectations. One tip that I recently incorporated into my practice relates to e-mails. E-mail can be overwhelming and when you receive many e-mails per day, it’s inevitable that you will either forget to respond to some or it will take you more than a few days to reply – all the while the sender of that e-mail is anxiously awaiting your reply.

The tip was to reply to client e-mails that you’re not able to address for several days or even several weeks with an acknowledgment e-mail which tells the client that you’ve received their e-mail and when you expect to be able to review its contents and respond to it.

While it may seem like something very small, maybe even insignificant to you, it goes a long way with your client. It’s one of many things that contribute to their overall experience and may contribute to their willingness to keep you top of mind as a referral.

2. Value Adds

When you are thinking through your client experience, there are components of our practice that can be done relatively quickly but would have a big impact for your client. One of those things could be something as simple as notarial services. When you think about it, as the lawyer providing notarial copies or documents it is a fairly simple task that we likely don’t give a lot of thought to.

Why not take something like this and instead of charging for it, offer it as a value add for your existing clients?

In my experience, there is no better feeling then when I have a client who expects to receive a bill for a service and I get to tell them that there’s no charge. Most people are absolutely tickled by this and it’s often something that makes their day. I find that this is because most people expect to be “nickeled and dimed” by their lawyer and charged for every second that they interact with you. I thoroughly enjoy any opportunity I get to showcase that not all lawyers approach the practice this way.

Be creative and think about ways that you can provide added value to your clients, the small amount of time or money you may lose in the short term, will pay off in the long run.

3. Small Talk Matters

As a solicitor, most of the law that I get to practice is what I like to refer to as “Happy Law” meaning that people tend to be at my office when there are good things happening for them or at the very least, not when bad things are happening to them. Buying and selling homes or starting a business tend to be exciting things. Estate planning can also be something happy or relieving.

Regardless of the client meeting that I am entering, I try to start off with small talk. I’ll admit it’s not always possible, but it’s what I strive for. Remember above where I was talking about client experience as it relates to referrals? Face-to-face interaction with your client is a huge part of their experience with you and your firm.

Whether you like small talk or not, being a good conversationalist and at the very least, taking a genuine interest in how someone’s day went or diving in just a little bit deeper into why they’ve come to see you can go a long way to improve your client’s experience with you.

At the end of the day, client management is a tough skill to learn, but it’s a critical part of being a lawyer. I encourage you to keep these strategies in mind and be on the lookout for other ways you can improve your client’s experiences with you and your firm.

About the Author

Charlene Scheffelmair is a partner with Davidson & Williams LLP in Lethbridge, Alberta. She practices primarily in the areas of corporate and commercial law; residential and commercial real estate; estate administration and planning; and foreclosures.

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