Blog/Podcast: Keep Clients Happy by Avoiding These Three Mistakes

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The question that every lawyer in private practice asks is, “How do I get business from in-house counsel?” The more important question, however, is, “How do I keep corporate business once I have it?”

Law firms often fail to consider the second question, and it leads to service issues that frustrate in-house counsel. Steve Heinrichs, Chief Legal and Compliance Officer, EVP, General Counsel and Secretary of Mueller Water Products, joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast to talk about how outside counsel can provide better service to corporate clients and shared his top three service mistakes.

  1. No Communication

There are a variety of ways a law firm can fall out of favor with an in-house attorney, but the absolute worst thing a firm can do is fail to communicate regularly. In-house counsel hire outside firms because they don’t have the bandwidth for certain matters, and having to constantly ask for updates defeats the purpose of hiring out in the first place. It also means that outside lawyers aren’t doing what they’re paid to be doing: taking matters off their client’s plate. In especially bad situations, inconsistent communication and unclear deadlines are grounds for termination.

Communication plans are also often missing from RFPs and sales pitches. Steve, like every other in-house lawyer, wants to feel comfortable when engaging a firm, especially one he hasn’t worked with before. His biggest source of comfort? Knowing exactly how and when the firm will communicate with him. Adding a communication plan to RFPs (and more importantly, sticking to it) is one of the best ways to gain corporate counsel’s trust.

  1. No Diversity

Nearly every RFP that Steve submits includes a call for diversity of team members, and while most firms respond to that request, in some cases it’s not really team diversity. Instead, it’s tokenism, where minority lawyers are not integrated into the team or engaged with the project. Steve stresses that in-house counsel truly value diversity and spend a significant amount of time on it, and it’s disappointing when firms’ so-called commitment to diversity is disingenuous.

Firms that struggle to meet requests for diversity need to take a hard look at how they hire, train and develop their attorneys. They must actively recruit diverse lawyers and change their culture to be more inclusive. Boutique firms aren’t off the hook, either. Even small practices with two or three lawyers can partner with other firms to create a more diverse team.

  1. No Service Mindset

When it comes down to it, law is a service business, and lawyers could learn a thing or two from service providers in other industries. Steve’s favorite service provider is his dry cleaner, Bob. Not only does Bob do a great job cleaning and pressing Steve’s clothes, but he also goes above and beyond to understand and serve his top customers. He knows Steve’s name, recognizes his car when he pulls into the parking lot and texts him if his clothes are ready early. If anything goes wrong, Bob fixes it right away. It’s the classic model of service with a smile, and it’s what all lawyers should strive to offer their clients.

Certainly, attorneys have to be competent and good at their job, but relying on being the smartest person in the room isn’t enough. Without a service mindset, it’s impossible to be a true partner to clients. It’s those little, thoughtful touches that create a long and mutually beneficial relationship.

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