Client Relationships

Beyond BiglawThere are a lot of ways to measure success as an attorney. Many of the ways lawyers measure their own successes are backwards-looking. Whether focusing on past educational accomplishments or big deals or cases they have participated in, lawyers love to focus on what they have done.

There is nothing wrong with that, unless it prevents someone from focusing on what truly is important: the present. And for practicing lawyers, and those who intend to keep on practicing, there is only one question relating to the present that matters: “Who thinks of me as their lawyer?”

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Keith Lee

The first step in putting yourself out there is knowing what you are about. You absolutely need to be able to present who you are to people in a simple, cohesive fashion. Otherwise, it can be difficult to make connections with people.

If you are stumbling on who you are or what you do, people lose interest. You need to be able to simply, and quickly, tell a story about who you are. Something that communicates what you are about — as a person and as a professional. You need to be able to express your personal narrative.

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A few weeks into my new contract job, things got extremely busy. A few of the partners assigned additional work to me, and I see 12-hour days coming in the near future. And when I am done there, I have to go back home to work on my own client files. Unread letters and email are piling up on my desk, and it is getting harder to respond to phone calls quickly. I needed to do something to reduce the workload. And I sure as heck am not going to tell the partners that I’m too busy with my own work.

Over the weekend, as I was reviewing my notes and preparing billing statements to my clients, I decided that some of them had to go. Some were not paying their bills as agreed on the attorney-client contract and giving me all kinds of excuses. Others were slow in giving me information and documents that I needed. And others had malignant personalities that I couldn’t stand. Like most unestablished solo practitioners and small firms, I previously had no choice but to be flexible and exercise temperance in these situations. But now I am in a position to fire them.

After the jump, I will tell a story about a client I recently fired, the reasons why, and how I ended the relationship. I was worried because of the things he could possibly do to me: a bar complaint, a malpractice lawsuit, or a negative online review. But I felt particularly bad about this because he was one of my very first clients and one of my strongest cheerleaders….

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How does your law firm measure return on investment on social media? Likes, comments, followers, traffic, or analytics? Big mistake.

Good lawyers get their work from relationships and word of mouth. When measuring return on social media, measure with reputation and relationships in mind.

Kristin Andree (@andreemedia), a marketing strategist and former director in the financial services industry, writes in Investment News this week that relationships are the real social media ROI.

Andree is like most people when buying services:

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Keith Lee

There is an old story that tells the tale of three stonemasons. A stranger walks up and asks the stonemasons what they are doing. The first stonemason pauses and says, “I’m making a living.” The second stonemason replies, “I am making the best stone work in the country.” The third stonemason stands up with a distant look in his eyes and says, “I am making a cathedral.”

The first stonemason is a worker bee. He is there to collect a paycheck, nothing more. It is unlikely he will ever find success without someone else’s direction — if he ever finds it at all. A low-level associate. Or doc reviewer. A emp worker. The second stonemason is a craftsman for sure, but lacking in the big picture of what he is doing. An associate. Perhaps a partner someday. The third stonemason is the man who understands the ultimate goal of what their enterprise is all about. He is the senior partner. The one who has clients. One with the will and drive to start his own firm….

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Keith Lee

Last week I wrote about a complaint I heard from a client after they had been billed for two bottles of water served to them by their former lawyers at a meeting. I got numerous emails from people saying it was one of the most shocking behaviors that they had ever heard, the lowest of the low — a lawyer billing a client for a bottle of water that they had given to the client. When I wrote about it, it was the most egregious thing I had ever heard that a lawyer had billed to their client. But as a lawyer I know often says, “Take your expectations, then put even lower. Try the gutter.”

Less than a week later, there’s something worse in the news. A lawyer got sanctioned for his incompetent representation — then billed the sanctions to the client….

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Keith Lee

It’s always interesting to have conversations with clients who have gone through multiple lawyers. Not the sort of clients who have gone lawyer shopping in the past, bouncing around looking for the lowest price, but rather the client who has had a relationship with a lawyer in the past and has decided to break away from that lawyer due to poor performance or bad customer service. Listening to clients who have severed relationships with other lawyers offers a glimpse into what is going on in the mind of clients and what they expect from the legal services they obtain.

One of the most egregious things I’ve heard lately from a client has to do with a couple of bottles of water….

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Keith Lee

One of the first realities that new lawyers come to confront as they graduate law school — whether it be on their own or within a firm — is that clients are the life blood of practice. No clients, no practice.

This often comes as a surprise to new lawyers. Despite the the glut of lawyers, declining legal industry, and overall economic malaise, many new lawyers still think that clients will magically appear once they have received their J.D. and passed the bar. A few months into practice, they are quickly dissuaded of this notion.

Instead, they learn that clients must be developed or found.

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Biglaw associates are used to the “black hole” effect when it comes to their assignments. Sure the work is important and valuable, but because of the disconnect between a typical Biglaw attorney and an actual client, it can feel like any given assignment is destined for a “black hole,” rather than serving as a building block for solving a client’s problem. The further removed the lawyer is from the client, the more pronounced the effect. It can be a morale drainer, especially if it looks like the lawyer will never get the chance to work directly with a client on a matter of significance.

Working at a boutique or smaller firm, where there is more direct client contact by necessity, presents a different challenge to a lawyer’s motivation than the “black hole” effect. Because at a smaller firm, or even for partners in Biglaw firm lucky enough to make the adjustment from service partner to a true “counselor,” the lawyer in close contact with a client must confront the inherent limits in the attorney-client relationship. Yes, it can be much more rewarding to have a practice where you feel like you are partnering with your client to get things done. But it becomes all the more frustrating when you give advice, even good advice, that goes unheeded by that same client….

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Star Trek, beads and wire, sculpture by Devorah Sperber, Spock, Kirk and McCoy: Beaming-In (In-Between), Microsoft, Studio D, Redmond, Washington, USA" by Wonderlane

From Star Trek — The Motion Picture:

Doctor McCoy: Spock, you haven’t changed a bit. You’re just as warm and sociable as ever.

Spock: Nor have you, Doctor, as your continued predilection for irrelevancy demonstrates.

Spock is a Vulcan. He gets away with living by “reason and logic with no interference from emotion,” but that’s because his extraterrestrial humanoid species gave “massive assistance to a devastated post–World War III Earth, enabling the planet to eliminate poverty, disease, and suffering within a single century.”

Lawyers, unless you can save planet Earth like the Vulcans did, don’t be so cocksure about the upside of being a 24/7, devoid-of-emotion, professional a-hole….

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