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Client Loyalty Post #8: So you have a new client. Now what?

03.10.21 | Susan Duncan

This is the eighth in our weekly series of posts that provide excerpts and tips from our book Building Enduring Client Loyalty: A Guide for Lawyers and Their Firms, just published in February.  Click here to save 10%. Enter code ‘BEC10’ at the checkout

The customer service experience begins long before a client actually engages a firm, and in some cases, the process of actually opening a new client file may have created some stressful interactions over things like conflicts and conflict waivers, staffing and billing requirements and other new engagement protocols. Because first impressions as a paying client (as opposed to a prospect) will have a disproportionate impact on a client’s perceptions, it is critical that their experience as a new client goes smoothly and comfortably.

Every firm should utilize an on-boarding checklist of standard steps and conversations to undertake with each new client. A client’s experience with a firm should be consistent across lawyers, practice groups and offices, not individualized depending on an individual lawyer’s new engagement approach. Some firms have developed client “pledges” or “promises” that articulate publicly what the firm’s commitment is to clients and how they expect their lawyers and employees to follow specific steps to fulfill these standards. Lawyers and employees are measured on their performance against the client service standards.

At the outset of every new client relationship, and revisited at least annually thereafter, it is recommended that firms take the following steps:

Establish an internal central knowledge base. During the prospecting stage, the firm will have collected competitive intelligence, business and financial intelligence and captured the firm’s history and relationships with the client. This should all be held digitally in a central repository and made available to anyone internally who will be serving that client.

Develop a written service plan with the client. This document is created together with input from the client and will clarify the client’s objectives, philosophy about its legal strategy, criteria for successful outcomes and general preferences for working with their outside law firms. The clients billing, staffing and reporting requirements can be included in this document.

Communicate effectively and avoid surprises.  The client team or relationship partner should establish protocols that will meet the needs of clients including reporting relationships, how and to whom documents and drafts will be circulated, preferences in format (email, phone, text, paper mail,) expected deadlines and response times and relationship check ins (how often and with whom.)

Agree on service, staffing and billing protocols and standards. Clients often have their own billing protocols they require law firms to follow. Clients often define what they are or are not willing to pay for, e.g., a first year associate’s time, having no more than a certain number of lawyers billing time for the same call or meeting, or transferring knowledge to a new member of the team.

Case assessment and scoping. At the outset of every new matter, the proposed team should be discussed along with the scope of work to be performed and the budget taking into account the skills, level of experience and price point of the professionals involved.

Establish budgets and timelines. Once scoped and staffed, budgets should be prepared with milestones and benchmark metrics in place to monitor in real time.  The firm and client should agree on how progress, status updates and timelines will be monitored and by whom, for example a designated project manager, and when clients would like a “red flag” trigger for certain change orders, overages or other deviations from the initial scope and budget.

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 [email protected].