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Mistakes Legal Professionals Should Avoid

What lawyers should NOT do if they want to make a good impression on clients and grow their practice.

Do you want to start the New Year off on the right foot?  Do a self inventory to make sure you and your staff are not making any of these mistakes:

Mistake #1: Failure to return phone calls timely, or at all

No industry is perfect, but we’ve all heard complaints at one time or another from friends, clients, and other contacts that they can’t get a lawyer they wish to hire, or one they recently hired, to call them back.

Annemarie Cronin, Public Relations & media consultant, and owner of the Annemarie Cronin Agency, noted that “our research of family law attorneys reflected the number one complaint about lawyers was the failure to return phone calls.”  Cronin’s agency represents attorneys, doctors, banks, retail stores, and other businesses seeking to gain exposure for their business through television, radio, print and internet advertising, as well as customized marketing campaigns.

A quick review of attorney disciplinary notices, confirms that failure to timely communicate is a problem for some legal professionals.  Click here for The Michigan Lawyer’s Blog summarizing the Attorney Discipline Board Annual Report of 2010. Cronin also noted that many of her physician clients ask her for recommendations to a good attorney, but she has been reticent to suggest anyone because she also experienced non-responsiveness from lawyers in big and small firms alike.  “It is disappointing to invest 30 min to 2 hours meeting with an attorney, explaining the problem, providing documentation, and being told you’ll hear back from the lawyer in a day or two, and then not receive a call or a letter telling you whether they are accepting or declining the work,” says Cronin.

Clients in this unfortunate situation can seek other counsel.  However, sometimes the time lost in waiting for a response is detrimental to their situation, or it is too late and they give up out of frustration.

Tip #1:  If you can’t return the client’s call in 24 hours, be sure someone else in your office does.  Alternatively, solos can respond to the client’s inquiry with an email, text, or voicemail message indicating when the lawyer is available to speak to the client.

Clients understand if you are tied up in court or are away from the office, but they deserve a timely response nonetheless.  This is common courtesy.  No one wants to be left waiting indefinitely.  If the client calls your office, hears nothing, and has to call again, that’s not helpful to the client and it is damaging to the lawyer’s reputation as a professional.  Clients seek out attorneys because they are usually in some sort of predicament that needs immediate professional help.  Every effort should be made to either return the phone calls within 24 hours or instruct a staff member to reach out to clients with specific information as to when they can expect to hear back. Thereafter, the attorney should follow through in a timely manner.   In some practice areas, such as litigation, there may be periods of time where there is no real news for the client and the case may take 2 to 3 years before there is any resolution.  As most clients have little or no idea how long a legal matter could take to run its course, it is important for the attorney to explain what the client should expect with respect to resolution and time frame.

Mistake #2:  Buying advertising without a strategy

Cronin also noted that legal professionals sometimes make the mistake of taking out a full page ad and paying  up to $7,000, hoping it will generate new business.  “I’d rather see the money being spent on something that will produce the desired results, than have them throw money away hoping someone will see their ad and call them.”  While ads can be effective, they must be part of an overall strategy and not a one-time shot.  Cronin believes in doing a needs analysis with all her clients before suggesting they spend any money at all.

Tip #2:  Plan before spending money on marketing or advertising

Some of the “old school” lawyers were used to relying on ads to drive traffic to their office, especially high volume practices such as bankruptcy, divorce, or criminal law matters.  Large law firms also frequently run ads in various publications.  Today, however, more clients are using social media, researching the internet, and finding attorneys through other means.  As the phone calls started dropping off, lawyers had to turn to other methods to generate traffic.  Having a marketing and advertising strategy is just as important as having a good marketing or advertising piece.  One ad, article, or TV spot isn’t enough to sustain any law practice.  There must be an ongoing marketing strategy in order to produce consistent new business.   Your website, newsletters, articles and blogs, referral sources, and social media profiles are all components of your marketing plan, and how well you utilize these tools will determine your level of success.

Mistake #3:   Ineffective or untrained support staff

Cronin recalled one client spending $10,000 to $15,000 on radio ads each month.  The ads were generating a lot of calls, but the firm was not converting those calls to business.  After observing how the office staff was handling the calls, Cronin immediately saw the problem.  “The office staff failed  miserably in connecting with the caller.  They put the callers on hold,  made no attempt to set up an appointment and didn’t even get the caller’s name and phone number.  Sometimes the caller hung up before the receptionist came back on the line.  Without a name and number, they couldn’t call the client back.”

Tip #3:  Whenever you are running any type of promotion, you need to have the office staff or an automated system set up to handle the call volume or email response from the potential new clients.   This should be addressed in the marketing strategy and tweaked as necessary in case the response is greater than anticipated.

Mistake #4:  Shabby appearance and rude demeanor

According to Cronin, lawyers need to carefully consider the visual appeal of the waiting room and office, as well as how long is an acceptable amount of time for a client to be left waiting in the lobby.  “I don’t advise a professional spend $5,000 to $7,000 on an ad when they really should use that money to spruce up their lobby or reception area.  The same goes for the lawyer’s office or conference room, if clients will spend any time in those areas.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen dingy upholstery, outdated furniture, and a shabby looking, cluttered office,” says Cronin.  Since you can’t undo a bad first impression, these things should be considered, especially if the professionals aren’t converting as many clients as they had hoped after the initial office consultation.

The demeanor of the office staff, as well as the professional’s demeanor, is also extremely important.  “People don’t want to be kept waiting and they don’t expect to be treated rudely or indifferently by the receptionist or front office staff,” says Cronin.  “Part of my job is to diplomatically point out all areas of the practice which need improvement.  This could range from office appearance, to professional and support staff demeanor, to their marketing and public relations options.”

Tip #4: If the Lawyer is running behind, the client should be informed in a friendly manner and asked if the anticipated wait time will be acceptable or if they need to reschedule.  The furnishings should be comfortable and pleasing to the eye.  Reading material left on the coffee table should include lifestyle, fashion and gourmet, and not limited to business and golf monthlies.  The client should be offered a beverage while waiting.  While these common courtesies are second nature to most professionals, those who don’t take heed of the small but important details lose the opportunity to make the client comfortable and set a positive tone for the first meeting.

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Annemarie Cronin Agency is a full service marketing and advertising agency in Bloomfield Hills, poised to penetrate the marketplace with highly personalized marketing strategies that serve to highlight the client’s uniqueness and capture the attention of the desired audience, through the creation and use of customized websites, radio and television advertising, photo journalism, and customized ad campaigns.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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