How to Keep a Client

By October 8, 2012

By Alan J. Kluger
Last week, AmLaw Daily published the article “Why Clients Fire Firms,” and it got me thinking about Kluger Kaplan’s relationship with in-house counsel and how important it is to manage a client’s expectations from the outset.
I believe that the single, most important metric for client satisfaction is how well an attorney manages client expectations.
Before taking a case, a lawyer must analyze his or her client’s position and convey the best and worst-case scenarios to the client.  This means being upfront and relaying the news to the client – good or bad – at the beginning of the case.  The key is not a law firm’s number of wins and losses, but rather, whether the firm performs in accordance with the prognosis so as to manage client expectations.  Our clients tend to be businesses that manage their day-to-day operations based upon market forecasts.  Accordingly, they understand the litigation process best when provided with projections and predictions, even when the predicted outcome is not always the ideal outcome.  That is why it is crucial that the risk of loss be properly communicated to the client at the outset of the lawyer-client relationship.

Most of the time, when a client comes in for an intake meeting, the lawyers want to know the facts.  Obviously the facts are important but in a way, it is more important to know what your client will consider success.  What is the end game?  Is the goal to settle quickly?  Send a message to the other side?  Is this lawsuit part of a larger, strategic business plan for your client?  Does the client want a fast resolution or a war of attrition?  The answers will serve as a backdrop for the broader litigation strategy.
For example, if your client is being sued and its goal is to avoid producing significant discovery, which will alert the other side to how it conducts business, “success” for that client might be writing a substantial check to settle the case.  While for some lawyers, that would be a bad outcome, for that hypothetical client, success has a different meaning.  In this instance, understanding the client’s needs and goals might result in a different kind of success.
Another key component to retaining long-term clients is communication.  However, it is important to learn how your clients communicate.  Some clients require face time.  Others prefer weekly, scheduled conference calls.  Others prefer to check in every other week.  Some prefer detailed memos.  Communicate with your clients in whatever way they prefer in order to ensure that the communications are being received and absorbed.  Whatever method your client prefers, communication is critical.  Clients who pay a lot of money for legal services expect to see results to justify the cost so it is important to communicate your results.
Understanding a client’s business, its long-term goals and its short-term issues will help retain clients and develop a long-lasting, satisfying relationship for both the lawyer and the client.