07 Dec Client Management Tips: Showing Your Client You Care – The LeXFactor
This quick hit episode of The LeXFactor features Sarah Ruttan-Bates, Lexicon Director of Legal Operations and Training. Our podcast hosts chat with her about client management and how fast the entire legal industry is changing – and how lawyers need to keep up.
Investing in your firm and your firm’s reputation toward your clients is key – and can be improved for free. Sarah suggests everything from being present with your client’s case and showing them they have your full attention to being mindful of your billable rates and how much your clients are paying you. Try finding tasks that your legal staff can take care of so the billable rate is lower – It’s all about defining expectations and proving to your client just how much you care about them as their attorney.
Lauren Hoffmann: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of the LeXFactor. It’s your host Lauren here, and I’m actually with Director of Legal Operations and Training Sarah Ruttan-Bates. You guys probably haven’t heard that name in a while, right?
Sarah Ruttan-Bates: It’s new to everyone. Lauren’s better co-host.
LH: Ouch. Well now we’ll find out if Brad actually listens to the episodes or not. If he doesn’t say anything he’s not even a fan.
SRB: We just like to compete.
LH: I know, right? That being said too, before we dig in today, make sure you guys like and subscribe to the episodes so you can keep up with whether or not Brad heard this or not. Most importantly. Not so you learn but so you know if Brad finds out if we’re talking about him.
SRB: This is good. This is really good. How do we track this?
LH: We’ll work on that. And today I just wanted to have you on to do a quick hit. What is something that we can talk about, we can throw out some facts real quick and listeners can take five minutes of their day and be done with it? And I was thinking client management. Let’s talk through some easy ways that you can manage your client relationships better.
SRB: Let’s think about this, right? Here’s where my mind immediately goes. Everything in the legal industry right now is basically changing. A lot of those changes I’m sure attorneys are seeing dollar signs, dollar signs, dollar signs. We talk about technology, and potentially outsourcing, legal management systems, marketing – this is all an investment, but where and how can you invest in your firm, your reputation, if you will, the services that you provide and it’s ultimately free?
LH: I like it. Tell me more.
Be Present in Your Client’s Case
SRB: Here’s where my head’s at. I’m thinking, managing those client relationships, how can you improve them? How can you make them better? These are some really quick, easy fixes, and this maybe sounds super direct, but be present. Seriously, be present in your client’s case. It is very common that a legal assistant or a paralegal is the primary individual in contact with clients. I can tell you, many moons ago for me, clients would get very confused and mistakenly referred to me as their attorney. No, no. Ethically, you have to correct that.
LH: you have to pay me more for that, right?
Know When to Use Your Legal Staff
SRB: I am not your attorney. I’m your paralegal assigned to your case. Your attorney is insert name. And the response was, “Well, I’ve never heard from them.” Or, “They don’t call me back. You’re the only person I speak with.” Which is great. Have that strong relationship with the legal staff but be present. Connect with your clients. If they’re reaching out to you directly it’s because they want to hear from you. Now with that, know when to delegate to your staff, right? Don’t get me wrong, the billable hours are important, the money, or really collecting the money, is important. But if there is a task or responsibility that needs to be completed, that can in fact be completed by legal staff at a lower billable rate, do that. You almost look at it, not only is it potentially something an attorney probably doesn’t want to do, but it probably feels good for your client as well to not always see that higher billable rate when it really is something somebody at half or three-fourths of that hourly rate could have completed.
LH: Great point.
SRB: I said be present, but return phone calls, emails, check in.
LH: And if you’re having a face-to-face, pay attention, right?
SRB: Exactly. Don’t be on your phone, don’t be looking at your iPad. It really does tie back to that first point, which is just breathe. Be present. These individuals are paying you, they retain your services. Make them feel as if they made the right choice. Again, that doesn’t mean you’re committing to anything or making any promises about the outcome of their case, but you are committing to and making the promise that you are going to treat them with the respect and the attention that they deserve.
I think it’s really important to define expectations.
Define Expectations With Your Client and Communicate Consistently
LH: On both sides.
SRB: Absolutely. It’s just so important so a client knows what to expect from you. Again, I am not saying outcome of the case. I’m saying from you as their attorney. Attorney on record, what can they expect? “You can expect that I’m going to call you back within 24 hours. You can expect that I’m going to be notifying you every time that I hear from co-counsel or I receive something from the courts. You can expect that we’re going to send you an email when this, this, and this happens, or we’ll be meeting at this point and that point in your case.” Whatever that looks like for you. I’m just saying, define those expectations so they know that you are engaged and that you are committed and they’re not out there going, “I haven’t heard from you. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know what to expect. I’ve seen nothing.”
LH: If I can jump in real quick, it’s the entire journey of your relationship with that client. It’s the entire journey of the case. So you have that initial consultation, you’re not just setting expectations for how you’re going to kick off the process with that client or what billing is going to look like. Make sure you’re thinking about the entire journey with that client, even what are expectations they can have once you wrap up the work with them.
Explain Fees and Expenses
SRB: Yeah. I absolutely agree with that. When defining expectations, another thing to be really clear about is your fees.
LH: Definitely anything that comes to money be clear.
SRB: I kid you not, I have sadly, sadly witnessed a few too many times, legal staff being put in a position to review contracts and fee agreements with, I guess at the time, potential clients. In my opinion, probably not the best idea. Most certainly if it’s a more complex fee agreement. But I think it’s really important for attorneys to be present. Again, I keep saying that word, but be present in that one. Talk through that fee agreement. What does that look like? Be clear on your expenses. Are you charging for copies? Are you charging them for mail, for postage?
LH: Like when you get the hospital bill for a box of tissues and you’re like, “What the hell is this?”
SRB: Right. Disbursements, that’s a huge one. What does that look like? If you’re contingent base, explain, “We take care of this all upfront and we don’t get paid until you get paid.” If you’re not contingent, let’s say you’re hourly or fixed-fee, however, you operate, you have fees and expenses, right? Talk about what that looks like. What are those expectations? What can the client expect? What does that billing process look like when that time comes again? It just eliminates the unknown. Most of the time, the practice of law, it’s very reactive, right? You just don’t know, you have to be prepared for everything. So manage those client relationships and manage those client expectations. And typically, you’re going to have a better professional working relationship with that client because they feel like you’ve been upfront and you’ve been responsive, you’re engaged.
LH: I love it. So there we have it. Five quick tips for better managing client relationships. Let’s go through them one last time. 1. Be present.
SRB: Be present. I mean, you be present, be present, be present. 2. Know when to use your legal staff. Again, that doesn’t mean sub them in as pseudo attorney. Return phone calls, emails. Set those expectations of when and how a client is going to hear from you. Define expectations. That’s a lot of different walks of life there but be upfront about what they can expect from you and be very, very clear about fees and expenses.
LH: That’s awesome. We should do this more often.
SRB: Words to live by.
LH: You guys drive to work and you got five tips that you can put into place today, and you didn’t use any more of your time. Perfect. Thanks, Sarah. Thanks for joining us.