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Client Loyalty Post #3: Are your clients behaving like loyalists or saboteurs?

01.27.21 | Susan Duncan

This is the third in our weekly series of posts that provide excerpts and tips from our upcoming book Building Enduring Client Loyalty: A Guide for Lawyers and Their FirmsClick here to save 10%. Enter code ‘BEC10’ at the checkout


What makes a client a Loyalist?

The goal for any law firm is to have as many loyal clients as possible. Loyalists are clients who remain clients for many years but more importantly, who send repeat and new work to the firm and who also actively promote the firm to their colleagues. Their loyalty actually is reflected and can be measured in their behavior. Not all long-term clients are loyalists. Some clients have remained clients out of inertia, the loyalty of a senior executive or the high cost of switching work to another law firm.

What is a Neutral client?

A Neutral client is one that is merely satisfied with a firm’s services and value. This client remains open to using other firms to look for better price, value or special expertise. These clients often do not stay with the firm over a long period of time and cannot be counted on past each transaction.  A neutral client might also be using the firm because it has to, either because switching to a new firm would create gaps in knowledge and pose a risk, or the legal department has been required to use a specific firm due to loyalty from a senior executive.

What is a Defector client?

Defectors are clients who either leave quietly over time, taking new matters to new firms, or who just stop using a firm without notifying them. This is usually difficult to do without the firm knowing this if there are multiple open matters as a new firm would have to ask for release of those files to begin working with the company.

What is a Detractor (Saboteur) client?

Detractors are the most harmful to a firm.  These are clients that have had a negative experience and are actively criticizing or deriding a firm to their colleagues. Unfortunately, the unhappy and vocal detractors are likely to share their negative stories with a much larger number of peers than loyalists share good stories and given the power of social media today, criticism can go viral in a matter of minutes.

How can you increase the number of Loyalists?

It is critical to understand what level of loyal or disloyal clients you currently may serve so that you can better define which clients are loyalists and what has earned the firm that type of relationship, try to upgrade Neutrals to Loyalists and address issues presented by Defectors and Detractors.

  1. Assess your clients on the loyalty spectrum using criteria for Loyalist, Neutrals, Defectors and Detractors.
  2. Measure client loyalty using the Net Promoter Score® or another easy, transparent survey method.
  3. Make feedback easy to provide, at any time in real time, not just once a year during a feedback interview. All lawyers and staff working with clients should be encouraged and given an easy forum to share observations and complaints clients express.
  4. Reward your loyalists and never take them for granted. Continuously look for ways to be helpful and valuable to them, ensure their personal and professional success and deepen these relationships.
  5. Enhance the loyalty of Neutrals by determining whether this ranking is your doing or theirs, what prevents them from being fully loyal and seeing if you can change that. If you cannot move your neutrals upward, determine whether you want to curtail marketing efforts that led to your retention of these clients in the first place.
  6. Understand and address defectors and detractors – find out which clients are quietly taking their work elsewhere and why. For those that have had a bad experience with the firm, try to prevent or at least minimize the damage done. If you cannot change the level of loyalty of these last two types, consider dropping them as clients as they hurt the firm disproportionately through negative reputation, diminished profitability and more time spent on the “squeaky wheel.”

RainMaking Oasis provides consulting and coaching services to law firms and lawyers in the areas of client loyalty and development, business development and growth strategy, collaboration and innovation and succession planning. Please contact Susan Duncan at