Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners

Customer Service Or Whatever

Keith Lee

The other day I walked into my local Starbucks. It was moderately full but there was only one other couple in line. I placed my order after the couple in front of me (tall, skinny chai, extra hot), then sat down to wait. I pulled out my phone and thumbed it to life, scrolling through emails, checking Twitter, the usual. After a bit, I realized I had been sitting there for a few minutes without hearing my order.

The couple in front of me had gotten their order and were doctoring their coffees with condiments. The barista behind the counter had a flicker of motivation as he looked down at the ready area of the Starbucks bar. He was a typical-looking Starbucks barista — mid-to-late twenties, tall, skinny, bearded, with thick-framed glasses. A general demeanor of indifference.

“TALL SKINNY CHAI EXTRA HOT.” I walked up to the bar to get my order.

“Uh, your order has been ready for a bit but, uh, they forgot to call it out. If it’s not hot enough, I guess I can make you a new one or whatever….”

This was delivered while looking at the counter. As the barista finished with the “whatever,” he turned and walked away to the other side of the bar. That was it. It was a laughable failure for a company that claims the following as their “mission”:

The blame lays partly on Starbucks for hiring such a person and not managing and training him on how to deliver quality customer service. So much of what makes up a company, especially their employees, is based on their culture. Yet, ultimately, the blame lays on the barista himself, for not having the personal motivation, standards, and pride in his work. Some might say, “But it’s just Starbucks. It’s not what he really wants to do.” This is the excuse of the perennial under-achiever.

It doesn’t matter if you’re cutting lawns, washing cars, or scrubbing toilets – I’ve done all three – you have to take pride in what you do. It communicates volumes to clients. This is doubly true if you are on the front lines of where your business touches its customers. As Dan Hull regularly notes, when you work, you are marketing:

Every moment your law firm “works for a client” — it sends the client something, it talks with the client, it does virtually anything for or about that client that the client knows about or should know about — the firm transmits barrages of small but powerful ads. The client notices then and there.

Every single action you take that faces the client conveys something about you, your firm, your work. It’s never someone else’s responsibility. You have to be willing to lay your personal integrity on the line. That’s what it takes to succeed. 

You need to take ownership of your work, even if it is “just” serving coffee. You have to be willing to dedicate yourself to relentless improvement. You can never rest on your laurels or take your job or your clients for granted. It’s the only way you are going to build a 20-year relationship with your clients.

Doing your best and working hard, even at arguably menial tasks, sets the foundation for you to grow as a professional. It will seep into every aspect of your life. Other people will notice. It’s what you have to do to grow and prosper. Assuming a posture of indifference is poisonous. Avoid it like the plague.

Keith Lee practices law at Hamer Law Group, LLC in Birmingham, Alabama. He writes about professional development, the law, the universe, and everything at Associate’s Mind. He is also the author of The Marble and The Sculptor: From Law School To Law Practice (affiliate link), published by the ABA. You can reach him at or on Twitter at @associatesmind.

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