Excellent customer service is the common sense foundation for the formation of any successful business. Although your practice’s clients differ from a normal business’ customers in many important aspects, a dedication to exceptional client service is a great way to stand out in the legal industry and to ensure that your clients return to you for their future legal needs.
Model Rules of Professional Conduct
The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and your state’s ethics rules set the minimum obligations you owe to your clients, and, to some degree, they also set the outer extent to which you can zealously represent your client. For example, under the California Rules of Professional Conduct, an attorney is required to provide a client with competent representation even if this requires the attorney actively obtain the skills and knowledge necessary through further research and training. Similarly, you are also required to maintain as confidential the information provided by your client; to decline representation of adverse interests; and to keep your client reasonably informed of the status of their case.
Expanding upon these minimum requirements is a great starting point when defining the client service guidelines for your practice. For example, be sure to thoroughly research all legal issues affecting your client when representing them – not just the issues presented by the matter before you. Competent is good, but you can offer better than mere competence. Also, continue to stay abreast of all new developments in the industries you represent. Furthermore, make sure clients always understand your commitment to maintain their information confidentially. Finally, don’t just keep your client reasonably informed, but report to them regularly and communicate with them frequently. Similarly, always respond to clients’ emails and calls promptly.
It is also worth noting that the ethic rules not only set the minimum standards which you are expected to meet, but also set some limits on how zealously you represent your client’s interests. For example, you may not advise your client to commit a crime; you may not threaten civil, criminal, or disciplinary action to gain an advantage in civil litigation; and your interactions with witnesses and jurors on behalf of clients is restricted. Accordingly, when determining the extent to which you’ll offer excellent service to a client, your state’s ethic rules should be your starting point.
Understand Your Client’s Needs And/Or Business
In order to offer competent legal services to your clients it is vital that you understand the legal issues that affect the specific matter they have presented you, but it’s just as important to understand how the law affects them and/or their business personally if you want to offer exceptional legal service. Many legal issues directly affect a client’s sense of well being whether the matter is civil or criminal. Demonstrate that you understand and care how this case affects them personally. Be careful to understand your client’s long term goals and how the issues addressed by your representation can affect those long term goals. When representing a client who is a business or small-business owner, be sure to research their business and try to understand how your representation fits within the context of their overall business model and the industry they are engaged in.
Offer Excellent Value
Great value can be thought of as providing better than market service at below market price. If you pay $20 for a meal or a bottle of wine, for example, that tastes like a $40 meal or bottle of wine, as a customer, you feel as if you received a great value. The same is true for legal service. Find ways to cut the costs that are passed on to your clients. This can mean using alternative legal research tools to cut down on the costs of legal research, utilizing cheap and efficient tools such as Evernote to make your practice more efficient, or by setting up shop as a virtual law office to cut down on your overhead. Thanks to new technology, there are countless ways you can be creative to find ways to cut down the costs of your legal service.
Your Client Is Not A Customer
The difference between a customer and a client is that a customer is always right. Meanwhile, your client is not always right. This is true whether your client understands this or not, and great client service requires you to understand the difference. As a lawyer you are a professional with a specific understanding of the intricacies of the legal system. Your client is coming to you because they lack that specific knowledge or understanding. Most practicing attorneys have encountered or will encounter situations in which a client is badly misinformed as to the law affecting their case. Similarly, many practicing attorneys have experienced situations in which clients have requested that the attorney take actions which would violate the rules of ethics. Accordingly, you need to be able to recognize instances when your client is wrong or misunderstands the nature of the law in their industry or the value of a case. In order to provide great client service to them, it then becomes your responsibility as an attorney to provide straight-forward and thoughtful legal advice which they can understand within the context of the ethical rules by which you are bound as an attorney. This will occasionally require either telling a client they are wrong or even refusing to comply with a client’s demands when doing so could subject the client to further litigation or criminal actions or you, as the attorney, to disciplinary action.
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