What Clients Are ThinkingPublished: January 13th 2020
Written by: Bryan Friedman
It’s been three months since I left my role leading Axiom’s Canadian business to join Friedmans. During that period, I’ve spent time speaking with a variety of network contacts about what they like and don’t like about their law firms. A few key things stand out that I thought were worth sharing.
The most common frustration among my contacts is around poor lawyer communication. I know a lot of lawyers will read that as a call to being immediately responsive to clients at all times of the day or night. But that’s not actually what clients are after. What they want, often much more than immediacy, is clarity and consistency. What is going on with their file? When can they expect to hear from you next? When will they receive the deliverables you’ve discussed? The answer isn’t always going to be “tomorrow,” and clients don’t necessarily need or expect that. What they need, and what they deserve, is to be given reasonable guidance, to have that guidance respected, and to know if the previously discussed plans are likely to change.
As legal service providers, we must do a better job managing those expectations. In my view, the best way to manage expectations is to prioritize clear, consistent and proactive communication. Don’t wait until your client comes asking for an update. Wherever possible, preempt their questions and requests. They’ll thank you for it.
Read the Room
Clients get frustrated when their lawyers make uninformed assumptions about what they need or want. If a client is asking for a quick answer to a question, don’t immediately task an articling student with writing a ten-page memo. Provide the answer if you know it. If you don’t, be honest about that and see if they want you to do some research.
Also, know your audience. Don’t dumb down your messaging to a sophisticated client, and don’t overdo the legalese for someone just looking for a high-level understanding. If you don’t know your client well yet, do a bit of research in advance of your meeting. Even a quick LinkedIn probe will provide some valuable information that will help you strike the appropriate tone.
Put Price on the Table
Lawyers are service providers. We should be able to tell our clients, with a reasonable degree of certainty, what our services are going to cost. If there are multiple variables that make up-front pricing difficult, try carving the work into discrete chunks and provide pricing for the pieces you can predict with clear qualifications to account for unexpected turns in the road. Importantly, try to do this all at the outset if you can. It allows clients to adequately budget for the work while helping to shape their overall strategy.
Speaking of Price…
Too often, we conflate price and value.
One contact of mine was explaining a recent experience with his regular firm – a large Bay Street outfit. He was overseas negotiating a complex transaction that was important to his business’s long-term prospects. The lawyer on the file understood the importance of the transaction, spent the time and energy to understand his priorities and made herself available late at night in order to facilitate the negotiation across time zones. My contact knew the cost for this service was high. But the value being provided to him was what mattered. He happily paid.
On the other hand, that same contact has had issues with the high fees charged him by the very same firm for work that he didn’t value as much. Same firm. Same fees. Completely different level of client satisfaction.
The lesson for lawyers: we can’t always think about the cost of our time in a vacuum. Not all hours are created equal. Figure out what matters to your client and try to determine price based on that. Your firm will be better off, and your clients will be more satisfied.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I hope it was helpful, and I certainly welcome any feedback!