Communicating well with clients is a foundational skill for law firms.From the first phone call to the final deliverable, each interaction you have with your clients is an opportunity to create client-centered experiences while you move matters forward. Keep in mind that a large majority of clients—around 82%—have ended a business relationship because of poor law firm communication with clients.
Moreover, the loss of one client often leads to the loss of many. Around 13% of clients will tell 15 people or more if they have a negative experience. In an industry where referrals matter and great client service must be the focus, communicating with clients is paramount. In nearly every industry, the advice is to communicate early and often.
By understanding the importance of client communication, properly managing relationships and using technology tools, you can turn your firm into a client communication powerhouse. As a result, you’ll create a client experience that generates growth for your firm.
Why Client Communication May Be the Most Important Part of Your Practice
Two of the most common customer service complaints in every industry include tedious communications and companies taking too long to respond. For law firms specifically, failure to communicate with clients is often cited as the number one reason for bar complaints.
Client communication is a crucial aspect of your practice, as it:
- Builds your business. Businesses that deliver better client experiences obtain revenues between 4% and 8% above their market. Plus, you’ll easily retain your current clients, while attracting others, helping you reach your firm’s growth goals.
- Enhances your reputation. In the legal industry, your reputation is everything. While 89% of businesses compete through the level of experience they deliver, you’ll stand out from other law firms in your niche.
- Protects you and your client. Ongoing communication protects you from ethics violations and malpractice claims. It also protects the client from making decisions based on a lack of information from you. For example, client portals are secure and simple methods of communication between you and your clients.
While we are all aware of how important communication is, so many attorneys still fail at it. Overly complex communication methods, improper relationship management, and lack of time are all to blame. The good news is there are tools and methods to bridge the gap.
How to Get Your Entire Team to Share Communication Practices
Any initiative you start in your law firm won’t be successful without everyone on board. That’s why it’s critical to ensure your entire team is on the same page as you start to enhance your client communications.
Foster a Culture of Communication Within Your Firm
Building a culture of communication within your firm is the foundation you need for exceptional client communication. It’s a way of practicing what you preach. As you build your firm, foster a culture of open and honest communication by:
- Keeping your employees informed. Start by ensuring your team is in the know of the happenings around your firm. Being in the know enhances participation and opens the door for better collaboration—something you’ll need to offer the best client experience.
- Opening your door. Welcome all comments, complaints, and suggestions from your team. They should trust that you’re always willing to listen.
- Encouraging team communication. Running a successful firm is a team effort. Encourage team members to communicate with one another and often. There’s no such thing as too much information when it comes to client work. Schedule law firm meetings often to collaborate.
- Making it clear that it’s okay to disagree. No one will agree with everyone all the time. Make sure your team understands that it’s okay to disagree and give them the chance to express it.
Create Communication Guidelines for Your Firm
As a part of keeping everyone on the same page, create communication guidelines for your firm that outline necessary expectations and procedures. Your guidelines must include:
- Your mission and values. Remind your employees of its importance by including your mission and values and how they relate to communication within your firm.
- Contact information. Your team must understand who to contact for timely problem resolution. List important contact information based on your chosen communication channels.
- List of accepted communication channels. Create a list of accepted and appropriate communication channels your team should use and which ones they should stay away from. Your list may include email, client portals, communication apps, and more. Choose only a few to keep it as simple as possible.
- Communication rules and procedures. When should your team use “reply all” in emails? Who should attend meetings? How should employees interact on social media? Answer these questions and more in your communication guidelines.
Organize Team Roles & Responsibilities
Successful communication depends on understanding team roles and responsibilities. Chances are, your team will understand that you’re the fearless leader, but do they know the responsibilities of others? For example:
- Who’s responsible for managing client concerns?
- Who’s responsible for organizing the weekly team meetings?
- Who should employees contact if they have a question about pay?
Take time to create an organizational chart for your law firm. Your employees can reference this chart whenever they need help deciding their next step for dealing with questions and concerns.
Building Relationships & Managing Expectations
Loyal clients spend 67% more than new ones. Put simply, clients who feel connected to you will keep coming back.
Build Client Relationships Through Exceptional Communication Practices
The trick to building great client relationships is to make the most out of every moment you communicate with a client. Here are several tried-and-true methods of accomplishing this:
- Practice active listening. Instead of listening to respond, listen to understand. Listen closely to your client’s thoughts and concerns until they’re finished. Then, ask questions to gain a better understanding.
- Remain positive. This doesn’t mean you should ignore the truth about a client’s case or legal concerns. Instead, during communication, try to keep a positive attitude and atmosphere. It will help your clients feel at ease during stressful situations—a highly valuable deed to accomplish.
- Share information and knowledge. Your clients don’t understand legal jargon and industry talk. Instead, break down tough dialogue and share the knowledge you have. The more they understand, the better connected they feel.
- Be open and honest. Gain client trust by remaining open and honest in your opinions and expertise. Whether it’s good, bad, or ugly, your clients should feel they can rely on you to do what’s best for them.
Once you build the relationship, you must manage it. To properly manage the relationship:
- Be proactive. Although your clients may have questions from time to time, do your best to foresee confusion and eliminate it. Keep your clients updated so they never have a moment to question your progress.
- Set goals alongside your client. Involve your client in the goal-setting process. Understand what your client wants from you and set expectations. This way, your client knows what to expect from the very beginning.
- Sweat the small things. Return the phone call or email. Don’t miss client meetings. It’s important to remember that what seems small to you is probably huge to your clients.
- Use a CRM tool. Customer relationship management tools can help you stay current on the information and interactions your firm has with your clients.
Setting Communication Expectations Using Your Guidelines
After you create law firm communication guidelines for you, it’s time to use them when setting communication expectations with each new client. In the very first meeting, outline what your client can expect from you. Answer questions such as:
- Which communication channels will they receive communication from?
- How often will you communicate?
- If a client has a question, what do they need to do to get an answer?
- What are your office hours?
Using Client Portals & Other Technology to Keep Client Communications Secure
It’s estimated that billions of client data records are stolen or lost each year. In the past few years, law firms around the globe have experienced more cybersecurity concerns than ever before. When it comes to communication, security is key to protect you and your clients.
How to Secure Client Communications Using Client Portals
A client portal is a safe and secure place for you and your clients to share files, organize and manage tasks and events, chat, brainstorm, and plan. These portals keep all communications in one place and are easy for clients to access. Above all, they increase your availability to your clients in a way that enhances the client experience.
There are many types of client and communication portals you can use for your law firm, including some built into practice management software.
Client portals are more secure than traditional methods of communication such as law firm email. They can also be more efficient than phone and text conversations as they rely on instant messaging and document sharing in one place, reducing ethical lapses.
Best Practices for Using Law Firm Technology Correctly
While communication tools have the potential to improve the efficiency of client communications, it’s important to use them correctly to avoid pitfalls such as data loss and malpractice claims.
Video Calls & Conferencing
Video calls and conferencing are increasingly popular, especially for attorneys who serve clients in various locations. When using video conferencing in your firm, follow these best practices:
- Use video calls where appropriate. Not all conversations are appropriate for video calls. Routine check-ins, quick question and answer sessions, and case updates that don’t involve serious action are perfect times for a quick video call.
- Test your video conferencing tools ahead of time. The way you present yourself on your video calls makes an impact on your client. Test your technology ahead of time to ensure technical difficulties don’t muddy the waters.
- Choose your setup carefully. Take your calls in a quiet place without background noise and distraction. If you work in an office, designate a space for calls where others won’t overhear the information you’re sharing with your client. Remove any client information from view.
- Stick to a set timeframe. Schedule your meetings so your team knows you’re unavailable, but also stick to a set timeframe just like you would with an in-person meeting. This helps protect your and your client’s time.
- Use a headset, high-quality microphone, and excellent video call software. Video quality matters while speaking to your clients. Use a headset and a high-quality microphone to ensure both you and your client can hear properly. Choose a video call software that’s reliable and easy to use for both parties.
When using email as a communication channel, it’s important to:
- Double check the recipient of your email. The worst thing that could happen is sending an email to the wrong client. Double check each email recipient before you hit send.
- Keep email communication short and concise. If you need to discuss a situation at length, schedule a phone, video, or in-person meeting. Use email for simple check-ins or shorter messages.
- Be positive and polite. Clients often perceive tone differently in emails. Be sure to keep it positive and polite.
- Avoid sending confidential information. Hand deliver sensitive information or place it into your secure client portal. Email isn’t 100% secure, especially if clients don’t protect their personal information properly.
- Check your grammar and spelling. Professionalism is important in all methods of communication. Double check your spelling and grammar before you send your email.
Phone Calls & Texting
Attorneys often find that phone calls take up a lot of their time. To help protect yourself from too many phone calls to handle, follow these best practices:
- Update your clients often. One of the most common reasons for a phone call is to check the status of a case or concern. If you update your clients on your progress often, they won’t feel the need to call.
- Train your staff to handle phone calls. If fielded correctly, your staff can handle some of the phone calls that come through for you. For example, your staff can answer questions about the status of a case. Train your staff to know where to find the information clients need and what to do when they can’t answer a question.
- Return your phone calls. Unreturned phone calls simply turn into more phone calls. If you receive a call you cannot take at the moment, make a note to return it as soon as possible.
- Keep calls short. This is a part of setting expectations with your clients beforehand. Take control of the call as soon as it begins. If the client needs to discuss a lengthy matter, schedule an appointment. Stick to the details and be concise.
Around 6 billion text messages are sent each day in the U.S. To most of your clients, texting is probably a norm. Although convenient, only use a text for small communication needs such as quick scheduling or letting a client know you’re about to arrive at a meeting. Never use them to give legal advice or to update your client on a case.
Enhance Your Client Experience Through Exceptional Communication
In all things, remember you should never be too busy to provide excellent client communication. Without it, you run the risk of providing a subpar client experience, resulting in client loss and stagnant firm growth. Through establishing a culture of communication and placing emphasis on being client-focused, you’ll deliver an experience they won’t forget.
Gain Critical Insights into Great Law Firm Client Communication
Just like most any other aspect of running your law firm, there are many ways to enhance communications. To gain access to attorneys who have done it all before, become a Lawyerist Insider today.