Client-Centered Lawyering and How to Achieve It
Though you may have become a lawyer because you’re fascinated by legal challenges, the fact is: A law firm is a business like any other. You’ll need to attract and retain clients if you want to operate a successful legal practice.
As luck would have it, there are many things you can do to further this goal. One of the biggest is maintaining a singular focus on client satisfaction. Today, we’ll take a look at what is popularly known as “client-centered lawyering” and discuss what you can do to meet client needs.
What is Client-Centered Lawyering?
With as much effort as you put into drafting contracts, arguing cases, and filing paperwork, you might be inclined to think you already operate a client-centered practice. After all, what else do clients expect from their lawyers?
One crucial thing this question misses is the difference between legal services and client services.
An analogy can help clarify the distinction. Think of a really great experience you had at a restaurant recently. More than likely, the food was excellent and you factored the friendliness of the wait staff into your evaluation as well.
The same is true for legal clients. Obviously your clients want you to do a good job representing them in legal matters, but they also want you to be amiable, comforting, and polite.
The former (“representing them in legal matters”) is what comprises your legal services, while the latter (being “amiable, comforting, and polite”) is what comprises your client services.
Since you’re a lawyer dealing with jurisprudential matters day in and day out, it can be easy to lose sight of how complicated the legal system can be to the average citizen. Whether they’re concerned with disputing a traffic ticket or fighting over a technicality in the will of a deceased parent, people usually don’t call a lawyer until they’ve got a serious problem.
They’re likely stressed, afraid, and overwhelmed, and your manner goes a long toward putting them at ease and building successful partnerships.
What Are the Benefits of Being a Client-Centered Law Firm?
Working to become a more client-centered law firm carries with it many advantages. We’ll discuss a sample of them below.
One of the principal benefits of client-centered law firms is the mutual trust that emerges between firms and clients. This matters for every kind of professional relationship, but it’s especially crucial in relationships as impactful as those that develop over the course of resolving a legal issue.
If you’re empathic and patient, clients will be cooperative and trusting, ensuring open lines of communication throughout your relationship.
As a legal professional, you bring a vast knowledge of the law, but clients must also be active participants in the process.
When a client senses that they’re working with a lawyer that cares about them, they’re likely to be more forthcoming with information that’ll help you build your case.
Everything goes more smoothly when your clients are fully bought-in, and that begins with being client-oriented.
Whether your clients think you did a good job or a bad one, they’re probably going to talk about their experiences. They might simply fill in their loved ones on how their case is going or leave a lengthy online review. Either way, it’s going to impact your firm.
There are lots of things you can do to get clients as a lawyer, including spending money on good advertising, having a professional-looking website, and cultivating your reputation by publishing quality materials.
But nothing replaces having a steady stream of satisfied clients behind you. Testimonials, especially from peers, do a lot to convince prospective clients that you’ll do a better job than a competitor.
How do you win those testimonials? Through the trust and participation that comes from a great attorney-client relationship.
5 Steps to Client-Centric Lawyering
Given all that’s been said so far, you’re no doubt anxious to learn how you can become more client-oriented. The following five basic steps can help you put yourself in a client’s shoes, think about the full journey they take, show that you care, make communication a priority, and keep the client-oriented experience as your highest priority.
Let's break these down one by one.
Step 1: Imagine Yourself as the Client
The first step to becoming a more client-centered law firm is to make an active attempt to put yourself in the shoes of your clients. Their reactions may seem to be inappropriate or overblown from your perspective, but a client going through a traumatic experience, will not necessarily see the facts the same way you do.
They may be fixated on an aspect of the case you know to be relatively unimportant, for example. Or, they may need you to walk through an argument multiple times before they understand.
This is part and parcel of client-centered lawyering. Your patience and empathy will remain with them long after they’ve moved on.
Step 2: Consider the Client Journey
Think through all the steps a client takes in their interactions with you, such as:
- Encountering a legal problem
- Searching for an attorney
- Meeting with you and retaining your firm
- Seeking a resolution to their matter
- Achieving resolution and concluding your relationship
Other than the first step (when the issue occurs), your law firm exercises a lot of control over the experience a prospective client has. Are your advertisements inviting or aggressive? Is your receptionist friendly? Do clients have to spend a lot of time on hold? Is your office professional and welcoming?
Think through the customer journey and try to optimize the most important touch points. Client intake is a great example, and that begins with legal intake forms. Intake forms might not seem like the place to begin with optimizations, but in some cases they’ll be the very first substantive interaction that a new client has with your firm. Are your legal intake forms straightforward, or hard to understand? Do you list out your services so that the client can choose what they’re interested in hiring you to do, or is this left until later? Have you checked with your bar association to make sure you’re cleared to ask for the personal information you’re asking for?
Every detail matters, because every detail redounds upon the way your clients perceive you.
Step 3: Show the Client You Care
The best way to show a client that they’re the center of your focus is through actions. For instance, respond proactively to their concerns or offer to schedule payments ahead of time for your clients. This prevents them from having to track individual bills and ensures that you can focus on serving clients rather than spending time on invoicing and collecting payments.
You can also offer legal fee financing as a flexible payment option. Your client can pay in automated installments that meet their financial needs, while you receive 100% of the invoiced amount upfront.
Step 4: Prioritize Communication
From the first moment you make contact with a prospective client until you resolve their matter, make communication a priority. They need to feel absolutely confident that they can come to you with their concerns and receive a thoughtful response.
Start tracking the questions and confusions that come up repeatedly, for instance, and be sure to address those ahead of time with new clients. You can also ask about their preferred payment method and the best hours to reach them, or go one step further and streamline communication via a secure client portal.
Step 5: Always be Improving
There’s always room to get better. Whether it’s practicing law, building a business, or both, proactively focusing on growth will help you get to the top of your game.
A great way to do this is to elicit client feedback. By figuring out what your clients liked and disliked about their experience working with you, you can identify strengths to emphasize and weaknesses to improve.
You can also incorporate continuing legal education (CLE) into your client-centered law firm. Industry experts often make their experience and wisdom available through webinars, courses, and books, so avail yourself of those resources. CLE oriented toward creating strong client relationships will help you cultivate and remain committed to the practices of client-centered lawyering.
How Can Legal Technology Help Your Firm With Client-Centered Lawyering?
With so many demands on your time, sometimes focusing even more on client service can feel impossible. Fortunately, technological solutions like LawPay can help.
From streamlining the client intake process for law firms to making payments easy, powerful legal billing software delivers a better experience for clients. It can also free up your time to focus on what matters: practicing law.
Explore LawPay’s payment features, including:
Legal fee financing: If a client just can’t come up with the full invoice amount when it’s due, that can put you in a bind and complicate cash flow. Legal fee financing, available only through LawPay, allows you to get paid upfront while letting clients pay in installments.
Scheduled payments: LawPay supports scheduled payments for greater convenience. Our software can even work proactively behind the scenes to make sure payment information is up-to-date and personal information remains secure.
QR code: QR codes have become a popular way of handling payments on a mobile device. With LawPay, you don’t have to worry about setting up your own QR code system—we can embed QR codes directly, meaning you get paid faster.
Card Vault: You’ve probably interacted with retailers like Amazon that store your preferred credit cards. LawPay’s Card Vault makes this available to you as a legal professional, so client transactions are smooth and streamlined.
QuickBooks integration: Software is always more useful when it interacts with other software tools, and QuickBooks is on the short list of most important financial applications on the market. LawPay integrates with it seamlessly, reducing the overhead you need to keep your books straight.
Becoming a More Client-Centered Legal Practice
Clients retain your services because they need an attorney’s unique skills, but this is not the only thing they pay attention to. Your demeanor, process, and ability to communicate all factor into their perception of how well you do your job.
When given a choice between equally-competent lawyers, most clients are going to go with the one that makes them feel more respected and valued. This is precisely what client-centered lawyering is all about, and what legal billing software like LawPay can help you accomplish.
Schedule a LawPay demo today to see how we can help you create positive client experiences and get paid faster and more easily.