The other day, a Pennsylvania lawyer asked members of a trust and estate listserv whether they follow up with clients a few years after they deliver a will or trust. All 70 lawyers who responded said no. But I’d bet plenty that if you asked the same 70 lawyers if they spend money on online marketing, you’d get at least a few yes responses.

So let’s back up. Before you spend a single dollar on online marketing, make sure you’ve done the following.

1. Check Your Intake Procedures for Leaks

Make sure every phone call gets answered. Enlist the help of a virtual receptionist, if necessary, and consider whether you ought to be answering your own phone. Don’t lose out on clients because you didn’t answer the phone in time.

Adopt a similar policy for emails — including people who fill out the contact form on your website. Make sure they get answered promptly.

When you answer or respond, use an intake form to make sure you get the essential information you need, but take whatever time you need with the potential client to make sure he or she feels comfortable with you. And if you handle contingent-fee matters, make sure you take the time you need to explore the potential claims. Don’t miss out on a good case because you didn’t take enough time.

More importantly, once you know you have a potential client you can help who is someone you are interested in representing with a case you are interested in handling, make sure you are able to convert them into a client. If you are losing out on business because you can’t close the deal, you might want to read up on selling.

2. Make Sure You Are Taking Great Care of Your Current Clients

The best way to make sure your clients turn into repeat business — either themselves or by telling people about you — is by making sure they are thrilled with the service they get from you. But don’t kid yourself. If none of your current clients are complaining, it doesn’t mean a thing. Meeting with clients a few times doesn’t mean you have a relationship with them.

How do you welcome new clients? Do you just dive into the representation, or do you give them a welcome packet and a token of your appreciation for hiring you? Do you at least sit down with them for an orientation session and make sure they know what to expect?

Do you communicate regularly with your clients to update them on their legal matters? Do your updates provide context and an explanation, or do you just CC the client on everything?

In short, you should give all your clients top-shelf service. In almost every practice area, satisfied current and former clients will be one of your best referral sources.

3. Don’t Close Relationships When You Close Files

It’s tempting to close a file with little more than a letter that says you are closing the file and you would love to receive referrals in the future. Of course, that’s a pretty cold way to do it.

Instead, call the client before you send that letter. See if they have any remaining concerns. And — this is important — ask what you could have done better. You will get much better answers over the phone than if you try sending a web form. Let the client know you will be sending a letter, explain what will be in the letter, and thank them for hiring you.

It is a small thing, but closing the file with a personal touch can go a long way to predispose former clients to refer more business your way in the future.

4. Have a Plan for Staying in Touch with Former Clients

Finally, this is the issue that prompted this post in the first place.

Stay in touch with your former clients. And no, adding them to your email list and sending a holiday card do not constitute staying in touch (although they are better than nothing, if only a little). Take some time to consider what you could do for former clients that would keep them connected to you and your firm.

Maybe you could start a Scotch club that is exclusively for current and former clients. Or host a holiday party in January. Monthly networking events? Seminars to help clients deal with their finances, find a job, run their businesses, or something else relevant? Offer them the use of your conference room. Or just make a point of inviting a former client out for coffee every week. Be familiar enough that when they need more legal work or when someone asks them for a referral, you are the first person they think of.

Heck, you might even make some new friends.

But whatever you do, don’t spend money getting new clients before you take steps to leverage your existing client relationships.

Originally published 2015-01-29. Republished 2016-08-19.

Featured image: “Silver metal bucket full of holes” from Shutterstock.


  1. It’s not like a will/trust client needs updates throughout life… Or has assets/money to pay for children/grandchildren/family who get in trouble or need money for a divorce… And when the client dies, it’s not like the personal rep will look to the will and see the name and address of the last lawyer to amend the estate documents stamped all over it, meaning probate or trust administration.

    I just can’t believe what your saying about the list serv responses. I won’t believe it.

  2. Avatar Roy says:

    I can believe it. Whenever I hear lawyers belly ache about the competition, I share a story that is similar to Sam’s and tell them to quit complaining.

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