How difficult can it be to get and retain clients when you have a closed market?
Lawyers are rightly concerned about the liberalisation of the legal market but, in truth, they should have (practically) sewn things up by now.
Whether it is the right to call yourself ‘solicitor’, have rights of audience or your loyal client base, right now you should be basking in your fortress of impregnability.
But the truth is that you have been so focused on: (a) making profits but not investing enough in certain fundamentals; (b) competing with your Me Too firm across the road; or (c) taking your clients’ business for granted that you have simply not taken on board (sufficiently) the need to stand ready for the changes. In short, your clients will look for a better service for less money (look what has happened to Habitat in the face of the Ikea factor).
Now is not the time to stand on ceremony. Or be indignant. Or be precious about the profession.
No, right now, you should have your battle plan up and running. You should have implemented the changes or be well on your way to do doing so.
For those firms that are waiting to see which way the tide flows, one word of advice: change waits for no man and you can bet that as you take the (perceived) high ground to look from afar at your nearest (and not so dearest) competitor that the market, more particularly your clients, will already be thinking about your service in a whole new way. Just you wait until you get an onslaught of TV and mass advertising and then see what happens?
Law firm marketing is EASY.
It comes down to one thing: SERVICE.
But not just any service. Not even the service that is backed up with a client charter.
No, it has to be the most memorable, WOW, fizzing, mind-blowing service that your firm is capable of providing.
This language is undoubtedly energetic, but how else would you want your service described? Good, acceptable or just Ho Hum?
You want your clients to be completely amazed. Bowled over with the speed of delivery, the fact that you do what you say, you don’t just commentate on the law but you offer an opinion and ultimately the client goes away enriched.
Of course at this stage, most of you will be laughing out loud talking about those clients who will never, ever be satisfied. The clients who will moan even when there is nothing to moan about. They seem to view you as a punchbag, someone to take their frustration out on.
We have all had them.
They usually try to wind you up by saying “The Law is an Arse”.
The truth is that the profession will always attract their fair share of people who have no regard for what you do. They are not healthy to be around and very often leave you feeling hopelessly inadequate even when you have done your level best to please them.
But in my experience these types of clients are in the minority, and as I became more experienced in practice, so I became more proficient at spotting those clients who were going to make my life difficult. I would love to say that I refused to act for them but fees being fees, I very often found I had little or no choice, simply because I didn’t have enough work to justify not taking their instructions.
However, taking the long view, I think that firms will need to assert greater selectivity over who they take instructions from. They will need to be more upfront about their capabilities and not, each time, take on clients for the sake of it. I think there will need to exist a Client/Solicitor Covenant where both sides say what they expect from each other.
At its simplest, I would expect the client to agree that, subject to you delivering a WOW service, they will pay their law bills on time.
It used to infuriate me that clients would take up oodles of time and expect you to be available at a moment’s notice to answer whatever query it was but then would wriggle like mad when it came to paying the bill. As if they could walk into Tesco, take out some food and say that they would pay for it in instalments when and if they had the money!
But reverting to the service point.
Marketing is made to feel way too complex. Yes, you need to keep the funnel topped up from time or may be you need to change the type of client to fit your new or refined service but the truth of it is that if properly engineered i.e. not leaving it to chance, and you deliver the most amazing service then it is easy to ask your clients for a referral (assuming that they don’t automatically refer a whole host of clients) without having to spend much time on new business development (in its widest context).
Let’s remember that service does not start and finish with the strength of your legal advice. Of course that is paramount – it is the sine qua non of your practice – but it encompasses every single touch point from the website, to the way the telephone is answered, to the reception right through to the tone and quality of your written work.
So much of your hard work in delivering a service on time and on budget can be undone by the smallest of things. One of the chief culprits is your approach to billing. You need to be much more open with your clients and keep them up to speed, almost daily, with where you are. That way there are no nasty surprises.
The mindset of marketing is not the domain of a small group of people or even the whole of the business development team. Marketing is just as much your responsibility as it is theirs. It is not a love it loathe it thing either. For me if you are one of those people who repeatedly says that I wasn’t trained in marketing that’s like saying I wasn’t trained to be me. Marketing is you. Your brand or persona is all you have. You need to constantly bring it back to basics and ask yourself how you think you are perceived by your clients.
I would dare you to ask them but I know you won’t. You will leave it to a client survey. Of course, people being people they may not want to say something to your face and if that is the case then give them a way to give honest feedback.
In time I can see this process being much more transparent and the Amazon factor will creep in where other clients can see how you were reviewed by other clients. There are already signs of this on Google Places where clients can leave a positive or negative comment.
To repeat: focus on service. Focus on it like you very being depended on it. Don’t keep saying you are too busy. That doesn’t wash with clients. You might think it is a sign of your importance but it just smacks of your own self-importance and not putting the client first.
Service, service, service that should be your motto.
Get it right and you can guarantee that marketing will take on a whole new dimension. Get it wrong and watch things begin to crumble.
~ JulianSummerhayes ~