Clients want talented, experienced lawyers who attain the best results possible, right? But as human beings, our experiences affect how we judge a service and its provider—regardless of the end result. Even if a cavity gets filled, you still may give your dentist a bad review if you had to sit in her waiting room for two hours.
Before going solo, Erin Gerstenzang, a criminal defense attorney in Atlanta, realized that the trial skills she gained at her first big-firm job weren’t enough to jump-start and grow her solo practice. She spent years becoming a better lawyer (and winning cases), but now she would need to learn how to run a business that clients could feel good about.
“As lawyers, we spend so much time hyper-focused on results, but what really matters is how we design our work, and how we design the services that we deliver to clients,” she explains.
Gerstenzang recommends that lawyers follow the cues of other modern businesses by intentionally designing processes to maximize efficiency and improve client experiences—rather than letting processes run on default.
How Bad Design Hurts Your Practice… and How to Fix It
Think about how your office operates on a day-to-day basis. What happens when a prospective client calls? How long do they wait before discussing their case? What if they have to reach you after their first consultation? If you start to think about the client experience from the first contact through the completion of their case and final billing, you are sure to find inefficiencies and gaps in client service.
Every practice has room for improvement, both to reduce your costs and to improve client experience. Here are five ways to make your practice work for clients:
Automating intake eliminates the need for a staff person to fill out forms by having clients fill out forms electronically. Gerstenzang can send a client a link during a phone call—and often does so while she’s on the move. “By the time I’m pulling into court, after signing up that client, I have a signed fee agreement, I have all of the case information I’m going to need because I’ve had them input it into the form, all of that information about their case, and I’ve been paid.”
Not only do electronic forms save you in administrative support costs, but clients will feel like they are participating by providing information. Just be careful to shop for secure software. Gerstenzang recommends avoiding free versions that usually lack the proper security to protect personal data.
Gerstenzang has a welcome email that goes to every client immediately after they have filled out intake forms and signed a payment agreement. Because she often partners with outside attorneys, the email includes attorney names and photos and describes the basic process that clients can expect, how to get in touch and any court dates.
She also has a two-week rule: “When you first hire me, even though there’s nothing happening on your case, if you call or text, I will respond immediately,” she explains. “I shower you in love and affection in those first two weeks.” This earns her the client’s trust and a positive first impression. That sentiment can extend to the end of a case, come what may.
If, like Gerstenzang, you have a solo or small practice and can’t afford a receptionist, consider a call service. Having your clients speak to a live human being can buy you time, so they don’t feel like they left a voicemail that may just get lost in your phone. With a service, every call gets documented, whether in a simple Google sheet or integrated with your practice management software.
Use technology to boost areas that need a boost
Gerstenzang hates typos but says she’s prone to making them as she rushes between her office and court appearances. So, she uses Grammarly to proof her writing. If your weakness is distraction, consider turning off notifications on your phone. You can still check emails and texts on a regular basis, but you will be in control of when those breaks happen, so that you’re not constantly interrupting the task at hand. Focus on where you need help and search YouTube or online articles for (often free) tech solutions.
Make your programs talk to each other
Gerstenzang recommends a program like Zapier that enables programs to automatically share data. When her clients submit forms, some of that data goes straight to Clio, her practice management software. The internet is your friend. Don’t put off fixing inefficiencies in your system just because you’re not an expert. Solutions are often a Google search away and almost always easier than you imagine.
Put clients in charge (of scheduling)
In addition to automating intake, Gerstenzang also uses an appointment scheduler that clients can access through a link. That way, if she gets an email that is a client asking to call her “sometime this week,” she immediately sends a link to that client and asks them to set up a time for them to call her. This system avoids the problem of vague “call me sometime” requests that get put on the back burner and forgotten.
Like any business, your practice can surely benefit from some thoughtful process tweaks. Even successful, mid-sized firms have room for improvement, often directly related to that success and growth. Listen to client feedback, read your online reviews and put yourself in the shoes of your clients. Winning cases is critical to building a reputation, but giving clients the “feels,” as Gerstenzang puts it, will earn you their loyalty—and future referrals.