Unless your practice is a strictly pro bono enterprise, your law firm is a business and should be treated as such. Therefore, at the end of the day, one of your practice's primary concerns should be profitability. To be profitable, your practice needs clients. But more importantly, for long-term viability, your practice needs to retain these clients.
Like everything else with your practice, and to retain your clients, you will have to devise a client retention plan focused on keeping your existing clientele loyal and your new clients happy. Unfortunately most attorneys are not intuitively business-oriented and client retention does not appear in the traditional law school curriculum.
In light of recent economic conditions, however, and given the supply of lawyers and law firms available, actively nursing a loyal following of clients has become a absolutely critical component of any law practice. Luckily, creating a good client retention plan only requires common sense and can be fairly straightforward.
This simple exercise can help you create a good client retention plan: First, pretend you are a client who visits an attorney's office on a matter. Next, list all the things that will likely make a positive impact on your experiences. Repeat these steps several times, substituting you with a few different friends. With these lists, you now have the substance of a solid client-retention plan.
As you look at the list you just developed from the exercise, three things will stand out: First is how sensible each items on your list is. Second, many of the items on your list are probably already required of you, either through your state bar's ethics rules or the attorneys' general code of professional responsibility (for instance, communicating with a client in a timely manner). Third, most of your client-retention items can be segregated into two categories. These categories are legal value and service value, and they should form the basis for identifying and organizing the concrete measures you will take to retain clients.
Creating Legal Value
Because you are in the business of the practice of law, your best and most effective way of creating client loyalty is through giving your client legal value for their money.
Here are a few very simple ways of creating legal value:
- Be an expert in your practice area.The bottom line is that your clients are paying you for your legal knowledge. Therefore, the best way to create legal value is to bring to your client's matter an expert understanding of the issues.You cannot create much legal value without that expert knowledge.
- Anticipate legal issues before they arise, and address them with your client. This is an offshoot of demonstrating to your client your command of the legal matter your client wants help with. It suffices it to say that clients like attorneys who are proactive problem-solvers. In addition to the convenience of not having to deal with future, time-consuming legal matters that are preventable, being proactive in your representation of a client is also a cost-savings measure which enhances your legal value and makes a client more likely to remain loyal.
- Provide timely and useful legal advice. This may seem misplaced but the best legal value is sometimes provided for free and when your client doesn't need immediate help. So, a good habit to develop in your bid to provide legal value is sending your client relevant, periodic updates on the law. If, for instance you have a Trust and Estates practice, follow the news that comes out of the probate courts in your jurisdiction and periodically update your clients on any changes in the law or happenings you think they might find useful.
Creating Service Value
Service value is just as important as legal value, especially since clients nowadays have a fairly healthy picking of attorneys and law firms. Chances are that even if you provide great legal value, your client will see your services as fungible, and fungible law practices have a hard time staying profitable and keeping their doors open. Therefore, your legal value has to be packaged and delivered with a robust amount of service value. Creating a good service model could include such basic items as:
- Communicating with clients in a reasonably prompt manner. Several years ago, the ABA commissioned a study in which it found that the largest amount of complaint received against attorney by clients involved the failure of attorneys to return phone calls. The quickest way to lose a client is to neglect them. Simply put, a client is not going to give you their money if they think you do not value their business. So, prompt communication with a client is one of the effective ways of creating and maintaining client loyalty.
- Hire helpful office staff. Depending on the size of your practice and your own practice philosophy, your office staff members will interact with your clients more often than you do. Therefore it is important that your staff understand your service-value approach and implement it by being professional and helpful when interacting with clients. Also, since a helpful team of office staff can be a tremendous asset to your practice by increasing its service value, be prepared to generously compensate helpful staff members.
- Provide alternative billing choices. Here too, providing great legal service just isn't enough anymore. Unless you have a highly specialized practice with few competitors, you may have to sometimes discount your legal fees or provide flexible billing options to your clients. Alternative billing practices could be an effective client-retention tool since your client will appreciate the recognition and the modest, short term losses in revenue may be recouped over time if your client keeps coming back.
It is a smart idea to invest some time into thinking about how best to keep clients loyal. To do this in the most effective and efficient manner, you will probably need to create a plan on how to retain your clients. A good client retention plan should deliver both legal and service values.