In the previous issue of Law Practice, I discussed the Law Practice’s Division theme of building bridges with respect to the attorney-client relationship. In this marketing issue, I think it compelling that the most important aspect of any firm’s marketing strategy is client service. Superior client service is an investment that can drive law firm growth. Investing in talented lawyers and staff with the training and tools that enable them to actively listen and empathize with clients is key to building a solid bridge to clients and providing consistently excellent service experiences.

A client-centered service policy is based upon the recognition that what our clients want most from their attorneys is care and concern. Often satisfaction is based more on how the client is treated than the result obtained or the amount of the fee. As a profession, we should commit to our clients to provide the highest-quality legal services at a value that they perceive as fair and reasonable. We fulfill this commitment by establishing long-standing relationships with our clients based on the fundamental principles of trust, communication and efficiency.

Trust is the backbone of any mutually rewarding relationship. We should strive to fully understand our clients’ businesses and empathize with their needs. We should strive to become members of their “team.” By having a stake in their future, our clients will trust that our counsel is in their best interest.

If a client has a problem or becomes unhappy with some aspect of the service provided, their confidence and trust in the situation must be addressed immediately so the issue does not grow worse. If a client leaves a message expressing unhappiness with some aspect of service, a return phone call must have the highest priority.

To foster client trust, expectations must be managed throughout the process. Any significant change in the course of a matter or a case plan must be shared with the client as soon as possible. If the fee estimate cannot be met, the attorney needs to adjust the manner in which the matter is handled or contact the client to discuss adjusting the fee estimate. Contacting a client in advance if a monthly bill is higher than expected is critical to retaining their trust. Never surprise a client with the amount of a bill.

A successful lawyer-client relationship also depends on consistent and productive communications. I often say that 98 percent of the problems we face today are due to a lack of effective communication. As professionals we must strive to maintain good attorney-client communication, trying to anticipate client needs and problems and collaborating with them to resolve these issues. Representing our clients must be an interactive process. Both attorneys and their staff must develop and maintain a mindset that it is all about the client. Clients should be treated as people, not files. Responding to clients should be a priority, and every client contact should project genuine concern for their matters. By being proactive in communicating with clients, we can often provide innovative solutions to unique problems and help them keep small issues from becoming big ones.

In my previous column, I addressed the issue of client demand for efficiency in the delivery of legal services. Attorneys must be equipped to respond immediately to most challenges that our clients face. Clients deserve prompt and effective legal services, and today clients expect faster service than ever. By allocating our resources and applying different expertise to our clients’ problems, we can work with the client as a member of their team to efficiently address the issues that confront them.

In today’s market, most clients perceive that all attorneys will provide high-quality legal services. What sets a firm apart is client service. One of the most powerful and effective tools to build a successful law practice is client service. Let client services be our watchword!

About the Author

BoltTom Bolt is chair of the ABA Law Practice Division. He is managing attorney at BoltNagi PC, in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, where he concentrates his practice in business, real estate, finance and government relations.