How to Build Your Practice One Shoe at a Time
Mon. July 1, 2019 \ by Jordan M. Ostroff, Esq Articles, News
Solo & Small Firm Committee // “How to Build Your Practice One Shoe at a Time”
by Gregory W. Herbert, Esq. // The Briefs, July 2019 Vol. 87 No. 6. //
Before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoes. Then, when you judge them, you are a mile away –and you have their shoes! 1
Obviously, I am not advocating stealing shoes, but as lawyers, we do not sell products, we cannot offer case law that applies only to our clients, we do not have better widgets than the next widget store. So, what do we have? We have our word, our reputation, and our client experience.
I can’t help you stick to your word or build a great reputation, at least not in 750 to 1,000 words; those take time to build (but only a moment to destroy). The client experience, however, is something that you can immediately fix, change, and improve to help grow your business. For those of us who run small firms, each lead can be the difference between making payroll, covering rent, or even just being able to say “no” to that other case that raises red flags and that you really want to avoid taking.
So here are my tips and suggestions to make sure your client experience is the best that it can be, to make sure your client enjoys having you as their lawyer, and to get your client to come back or send friends and family to you – put yourself in their shoes!
I am not suggesting that you go and get into a car accident, get a divorce, or (like my clients) get into a business dispute or commit a crime. However, if you have gone through any of those terrible things, or if you have ever had to be the client of the lawyer, then create a list of the likes and dislikes from your experience. Was it easy to hire the lawyer? Did you feel like it was worth the cost? Why or why not? Did that lawyer do anything that pleasantly surprised you? Is there something the lawyer could have done better? Asking questions like these is the best place to start this exercise. If you have not had these experiences firsthand, then talk to people who have. Ask them those same questions, and ask three to five former clients who you know will be honest with you about their experience with you and your firm. You might not like the answers, but you should appreciate the feedback. Every day offers a chance to improve from yesterday, and every new client offers a chance to provide a better experience than the one before.
What if you are starting out or you can’t find the right answers? Well, guess what… you have been a customer before, right? What is the difference between buying a car or hiring a criminal defense attorney? Obviously, the actual work is different, but the process is the same. Ask yourself the same questions about the last few purchases you have made and see what comes up. What influenced your decision to buy? What did you like or dislike about the salesperson? How did they explain what you were getting for the price? These experiences should give you ideas about how to improve your own customer service, help you figure out what sort of payment options work well, make you understand what sales approaches turn people off, or even help you decide whether to offer free cookies to children in your law office. Great! You are growing as a business owner and trying to be the best firm you can be, and that’s huge!
Some specifics to consider that have been very helpful to my firm:
Have multiple offices or the ability to meet clients in different locations. Many of our clients cannot drive (or, at least, legally should not drive), so we meet them in other offices, coffee shops, or even in the courthouse before court to save them from having to ask a friend for a ride or from paying for one.
Allow clients to e-sign documents. Since our firm implemented e-signing, any document that I cannot readily e-sign has negatively stood out to me. SignNow and similar services cost around $10 per month. If offering this service returns even one document faster, or helps you bring in one case that you otherwise would not have, it will pay for itself ten times over. It’s a fairly easy service to add to your practice that can have huge ramifications and improve the customer experience.
And last, but not least, be empathetic to your clients. Most of our clients are coming to us in their greatest time of need. They are hurt and cannot work, they do not want to go to jail or prison, or they are going to lose their business. Imagine yourself in their shoes. What would you want to hear? In most situations, listening, letting people vent, and then explaining how you can try to help will improve the services you provide. And then put your words into action!
Lawyers Disclaimer: This list is by no means exhaustive, and every practice area will have its own unique goals and challenges in meeting and maintaining client expectations, but it offers a starting point. And I can promise you, many firms are not prioritizing their client experience, so you can set yours apart by being the one that does (and it costs, at most, a few extra dollars a month).
So, take 15 minutes to think about it, and implement some changes. Give the changes about two to three months to take effect, seek feedback, and then realize the return. After that, figure out the next few changes you can make to continue to build. After a few reevaluations, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how it went.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step!2
You’ve got the shoes, now take the first step.
Jordan M. Ostroff, Esq., Ostroff Law, practices primarily in the area of criminal defense and professional licensing. He has been a member of the OCBA since 2015.
1 Lao Tzu, The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with One Step, Brainy Quote, (last visited June 5, 2019, 9:22 a.m.), https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/lao_tzu_137141.
2 Lao Tzu, The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with One Step, Brainy Quote, (last visited June 5, 2019, 9:22 a.m.), https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/lao_tzu_137141.