The ABA Journal recently reported that an unhappy person filled a pick-up with gas, bales of hay, and propane and then drove it into a law office. They surmise it was intended to be an explosive device that did not detonate and instead killed the driver who apparently was very unhappy with the law firm’s work for his girlfriend. That was an extreme example of the unhappy legal relationship.
Well we have all lost potential or existing clients, but hopefully far less dramatically. I do submit we lawyers do not pay enough attention to the “why” when a typical client’s unhappiness leads to a departure. A better understanding of the loss might just prevent others. We need to provide reliable, prompt and efficient service for our clients, who provide most of our return business. Don’t do that and guess what — former client. Thank goodness it is rarely as bad as the truck example, but it still is not a good business event when a client leaves because they are dissatisfied. When you look at the unhappy client, it is amazing how simple some of the reasons can be. It does not have to be as stupid as sending a Fed Ex package to your client UPS either.
I believe much of the unhappiness results from the really simple human nature things that make you personally angry daily. Yet, perhaps you and your staff may be doing some of the same things to your own client base. These common sense good business manners causes can be fixed to prevent client unhappiness. It just requires a version of quality control. You may think this is so basic that I should not have to deal with that on a staff level. That appears to be the problem — the professionals do not realize what is going on with clients before they get to you.
When training staff and young lawyers, I stressed to them the reaction they have to bad service in a fast food restaurant, with airline travel, or with waiting in a doctor’s office. They get angry, they leave, and they quickly lose their loyalty in response to the above. The same is true with law offices that put clients on hold and then drop their call, treat them badly, keep them waiting, or even worse don’t promptly respond to their calls or e-mails. Always think how you react and try, try, try to provide professional services as you would expect your grandmother to get if you had referred her to a colleague. This grandmother approach will keep claims at bay because clients will be far more reluctant to make a claim over a simple, honest mistake when they have been treated courteously, fairly and promptly by you throughout. But even more importantly, they are less likely to jump ship at a simple slight.
Take time to train your staff, not only the new ones, but periodically the existing staff. Polite, prompt and professional should be the standard which is reinforced by all. Stress to them the need for confidentiality and the heightened work environment for professionals in which they are employed. They will not get sanctioned, but you could lose your ticket for some misrepresentation or bad act by them. “Hire Slowly and Fire Quickly” is also the human resource mantra when you have staff issues relating to this quality issue.
All this is pretty simple commentary. You would think it doesn’t need to be said. When you depose plaintiffs in a legal malpractice claim, you hear a lot of these very simple things come out, and they are preventable by good business sense and manners.