This is a guest post by Ritu Goswamy, Esq., lawyer, productivity strategist, and author of The New Billable Hour.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions and general client anxiety from the current overexposure to information, law firms are inundated with client communications. And when I ask the law firms I work with if they have a client communication policy, they are not that confident about their existing systems. Do you have solid client communication policies and procedures within your law firm? Do your clients know, from the beginning of the relationship, what to expect from you and what you expect from them?
In my last post, I described how setting boundaries with clients is the foundation for creating structure in your firm and life. In this post, I’d like to take that process to the next level. I will describe how to put in place structures designed to help you maintain the boundaries you set, in three simple steps:
Yes, you already have a client communication procedure. Like most lawyers, you may not have written it down, but you have a way that you do it. Do you answer all calls yourself? Do you have staff helping you? Do you have voicemail or answering service? Is email or texting the way clients reach the firm? When do you get back to clients? Who gets back to them? Who is controlling the flow - is it the law firm or the clients? Let’s take back the reins and be more intentional about how you handle your client communications, i.e. maintain boundaries.
Before you reinvent the wheel, take some time to review the policies you already have in place for maintaining boundaries. Start at the beginning with your retainer agreement. Take a look at how your clients communicate with the firm and vice versa. Update and revise what you already have to include either explicit instructions or refer to a very simple policy you will create now.
Policies and procedures are meant to be dynamic and “living” documents. Many lawyers can feel paralyzed when trying to create a procedure by wanting it to be perfect for all situations from its inception. But the truth is that the process of making the policy helps you (and your staff) prioritize what is important. Through putting forth an intentional effort in making a policy, your team will be more aware of how client expectations are set and maintained.
For your firm’s client communication policy, include the best way for clients to reach the firm and what they should expect for a response. This means you need to consider how long after a call/email they can expect to receive a response. It can also include an expectation for a time frame for a client to respond to the firm. The attorney-client relationship is reciprocal and reminding the clients of their role in their case makes for a stronger partnership.
For new clients, adding this policy in the agreement or as part of your on-boarding process will work well. But what about existing clients and former clients who were used to communicating with you in the old way? Well, it’s time to announce the new policy! Luckily, 2020 has allowed us to create and grow in ways we never thought imaginable. Now is the time to establish new ways of doing business since you already are negotiating health safety protocols and so much more.
Depending on your capacity, you can individually advise clients of your new policy, send a mass email, or maybe even do a webinar. You could combine this announcement with discussion of recent legal changes in your practice area. Make it a fun way to engage with your clients and it could even be a marketing opportunity.
To maintain the boundaries you have set, review and update current procedures, then create a simple policy for client communication. Once you are clear on a starting point for your systems and workflow, share with your clients how your firm will best serve them and make sure they are heard. Doing so will ensure that your communication policy is polished, comprehensible, and accessible, enabling you to communicate with clients and maintain boundaries much more effectively.