On November 9, 2023, the Illinois Supreme Court welcomed 1,360 new attorneys to the profession across the state, bringing the total number of licensed Illinois attorneys to approximately 98,000.
As newly admitted lawyers who have graduated from law school and passed the bar exam, you’ve already proven your legal knowledge and prowess. But you may not be well-versed in another skill that is just as important in our client-driven profession: good customer service.
As a lawyer, clients will seek your services based on your proven expertise and knowledge in the field. But if you want them to stick around, you will need to deliver more.
Like in other industries, to be successful, lawyers must provide the service a client seeks while also providing an extraordinary experience that hopefully leaves a positive lasting impression.
So, what does exceptional customer service look like for lawyers?
Rising to meet your client’s expectations
People communicate differently. Some prefer in-person updates, while others appreciate a quick phone call or a detailed email. For example, a recent Legal Trends Report from Clio found most clients favor phone calls for status updates and a quick text message to answer a question.
To excel in customer service, lawyers must recognize each client’s communication style and adapt to it. By actively listening to a client’s concerns and agreeing on expectations upfront, you can build a strong rapport with your clients and set yourself up for success.
To ensure a positive client experience, be prepared to provide the following:
- Establish a client intake process: Whether you or your team is onboarding a new client, streamline and test the user experience from start to finish to ensure your first impression is professional yet simple. Consider gathering basic contact information and details needed to begin legal work and conflict check using online, mobile-friendly forms. Agree on billing terms and communication preferences.
- Use clear communication: Legal jargon can make it difficult for clients to relate to you. Leave intimidating legal jargon out of communications with clients. Instead, explain legal concepts and options simply and concisely that will help your clients fully understand the situation.“Reasonable communication between the lawyer and the client is necessary for the client effectively to participate in the representation.” Rules of Professional Conduct 1.4, Comment 1.
- Provide case progress and document updates: Clients want to know how their case is progressing and promptly receive copies of important documents. Providing regular status updates can help ease their anxiety and build trust. Consider including secure client portals in your relationship management processes, to make it easy to transmit and store client messages, documents, invoices, feedback, and much more.
- Prioritize timely responses: Clients expect timely responses to their questions and concerns. Being responsive, diligent, and prompt is an ethical requirement for lawyers (Rule 1.3) and a critical component of excellent customer service. (See tip #8 of my 9 Tips to Mastering Email Communication.) As always, be mindful of how confidential or sensitive client information is handled in communications.
- Establish cost and billing expectations: Transparency regarding fees and billing is crucial. Clients should receive a clear breakdown of costs and regular updates on the billing process. Setting expectations for the scope of representation, fees and expenses, and billing timelines during client intake can lead to fewer conflicts.
Provide holistic client support
Legal matters can be incredibly intricate, and clients often feel overwhelmed. So, it is no surprise that lawyers often wear hats beyond litigator or client representative.
As lawyers, we are also counselors, advisors, educators, supporters, and guides. And we can truly differentiate ourselves by going beyond traditional legal services to provide this more holistic support.
The Preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct employs us to “further the public’s understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority.”
Lawyers can provide exceptional customer service that empowers clients by educating them about the legal process. Use analogies, real-life examples, and plain language to demystify the law.
When clients understand what is happening, they can feel more in control and likely to trust your counsel. Moreover, they will be able to better evaluate their legal options and make informed decisions.
By educating your clients on the legal process, you are more likely to gain their respect and experience less pushback concerning transparency or your recommendations. And at the end of your representation, clients are more likely to value the service you provided, no matter what the outcome.
The necessity of customer service for lawyers
As you embark on your legal career, remember that exceptional customer service is not a choice; it is a necessity. We are not just legal advisors, we are partners in our clients’ journeys to justice.
Our clients expect us to provide outstanding legal expertise but it also behooves us to provide a pleasant, user-friendly, and transparent experience.
Clients may forget the intricacies of the law, but they will always remember how we made them feel. Make them feel valued, informed, and empowered. Build trust and lasting relationships, starting today.
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