Today is Valentine’s Day. A holiday where, we are told, one is supposed to celebrate love. Showing your affection to a significant other is one thing. But today can also be a day to evaluate your client relationships. Sure, there are bad clients out there, but if you didn’t have any clients you wouldn’t be in business. So treat them right.
Show Clients You Care
It’s one thing to tell clients you care about their case, and quite another to show clients that you care. When you show up for a client meeting, make sure you are dressed appropriately. When we dress well it is a sign of respect for whomever we are meeting.
Thorough preparation will also show clients that you care about them and their case. As a law clerk, I’m in court every day, and it’s quite obvious which attorneys are prepared and which aren’t. When an attorney is rifling through papers or turning to the client for an answer to a question, the attorney doesn’t look prepared.
It doesn’t matter if this is normally your client or not. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in court and the judge has asked an attorney a question that the attorney doesn’t know the answer to. The attorney often replies that this isn’t his case, and that he is covering for someone else in his firm. Nonetheless, the look on the client’s face is never a good one.
But preparation doesn’t just apply to court appearances. The same preparation rules apply for client meetings. Imagine the frustration of a client who has to answer your questions, when a quick review of your case file would have given you the same information.
Finally, put a personal touch on your client relationships. This can take many forms. Personally, I like the idea of adding clients’ birthdays to a calendar with a reminder for four days before the event. Invest in a bunch of one dollar birthday cards and send them to clients on their birthdays. This is a little more personal than a holiday card or even a New Years card, but serves the same purpose: to help your clients remember you when they need a lawyer.
Another way to make your client relationship more personal is to remember small things about their lives, such as interests or hobbies. If you have a number of clients, or just a horrible memory, keep notes in your client file. My chiropractor keeps me aligned for the marathons and half marathons I run. Every time I go in, he asks about my most recent race or my job. I know he has these things written down in his file, but that’s OK. It is still nice small talk, and fosters a stronger relationship between us. If your clients mention their children, their job, a favorite hobby, or anything similar, just make a small note of it in the file so you can bring it up again when it’s appropriate.
Treat Clients with Respect
When I write something like ‘treat clients with respect’ I almost feel a little silly. I mean, come on. Isn’t this just a natural rule of human interaction? Apparently not. Every single day I see attorneys talk down to clients. Even worse than just talking down to clients, I see attorneys treat clients like they are below the attorney. Last week I went out into the hall and found one attorney literally yelling at a client. Not exactly a strong bedside manner.
You don’t need to be friends with your clients, although whether this extends to Facebook friendships is up for debate. Regardless, you need to treat them with respect. Your clients are coming to you because they need help. For many people, asking for help is a very tough thing to do. Don’t make it more difficult by talking down to them. Instead, treat your clients like equals. This will show them that you value their business, and that the meeting you’re having isn’t just a billable hour.
Don’t Buy them Flowers
All of this being said, don’t take the valentine analogy too far. No matter how close you are to a client, you have to remember your ethical obligations. Almost all jurisdictions have a rule similar to ABA Model Rule 1.8(j) which states:
A lawyer shall not have sexual relations with a client unless a consensual sexual relationship existed between them when the client-lawyer relationship commenced.