This is the next post in my series on how to increase law firm profits in 2017 and beyond. My last article looked at how lawyers can reduce overhead by improving customer service. For the reasons I explained, improving the client experience results in a reduced need for staff. This reduced need for staff then results in less need for office space. The savings then just keep on rollin’ from there. Unfortunately most attorneys fail to see the connection between customer service and their firm’s profits. Those who see this connection will be doing the happy dance in the coming years while those who don’t will be seeking a different line of work due to the coming contraction of the legal profession. In this post I’ll be laying two concrete steps which will improve the level of service your clients receive while simultaneously making your firm more efficient. Following these steps will help your profits grow just like this:
If you want to make more money then implement these steps into your practice. If you don’t, then don’t. Let’s get to it.
Attorneys can improve client service and increase profits by developing case opening procedures
One of the surest ways to to keep your clients happy, and to get cases resolved more quickly, is to develop “opening” procedures for new cases that come in. When you sign up a new case it is important that the following be completed immediately – as in immediately and before anyone else does work on the file:
- Enter the client’s contact information into whatever software you use for managing contacts, billing, etc.
- Email the client a copy of the signed fee agreement
- Send a short “thank you” letter if the client was referred to you
- Make sure you’ve requested any relevant documents/records from the client. Also make sure that you’ve already scanned any important documents which have already been provided by the client
- If a prior attorney was involved then request the case file immediately
- Make sure the “initial steps” of the case are put in motion. For example, if you need an affidavit from the client to file a Motion then the client should be immediately scheduled to come so you can take the affidavit and have it executed
- Make sure all relevant case dates and deadlines are placed on your calendar
- Request anything you need from third parties (such as requesting the discovery from prosecutors in a criminal case)
Why will these things increase efficiency? Simple. How many times have you needed the phone number for a client but it wasn’t in your contact manager. How many times have you had to interrupt your workflow because you didn’t have documents which could have already been requested from the client or former counsel? This list goes on. By making sure these tasks are done from the get go you allow the case to get off on a running from the start. This speeds up the time in which the matter will be concluded. The faster and more efficiently you conclude the matter then the more money you make and the happier the client will be. Also, having these procedures will allow you to ensure that distracting things don’t “pop up” as often.
Attorneys greatly increase efficiency and client satisfaction by holding weekly calendar audits
Consider the following hypothetical. You have two hearings in two different courts at the same time next Monday. Tuesday of next week you have discovery responses due in Client Joe’s case. Wednesday you have a status check which should probably be continued because the parties are still waiting on some particular task or event to be completed. The typical attorney will spend Monday morning frantically calling other lawyers either trying to get hearing coverage or to get one of the hearings continued. Tuesday morning they’ll frantically call opposing counsel and ask for a discovery extension. Wednesday morning they’ll waste time going to Court just so the Judge can set another status check. There’s another way to deal with these kinds of things and, surprise, that other way will help you increase profits.
On Thursday of each week you need to audit your calendar for the following week. I say to do this on Thursday because it’s close enough to the following week for you to have an idea of what all the outstanding issues are and trying to get a hold of other lawyers on Friday isn’t always easy. First thing on Thursday morning you should review your calendar for the following week. Then, before doing anything else, get all those outstanding issues resolved. This means getting one of those Monday hearings continued so you don’t have to be in two places at once. It means either ensuring that your discovery responses are ready to go out or that you call counsel and get the needed extension immediately. It also means getting a stipulation and moving that Wednesday status check to some point in the future. Then go back to your normal Thursday routine once all these tasks are completed. This will save you from running around like a chicken with its head cut off the following week and will save you unnecessary court appearances.
How does this weekly calendar audit improve profits and client satisfaction? Simple. Do you think a client who is expecting to have a Monday morning hearing wants to get a call a few hours beforehand to hear that it’s being continued? If you call them the week before then the client is far less likely to be unhappy with you. Do you think a client wants a panicked call Tuesday morning saying that you need their information for discovery responses? The list goes on. These are just a few examples of why weekly calendar audits will improve efficiency and client satisfaction at the same time.
The interesting thing about the tips above is that most lawyers won’t follow them because they’ll claim that they don’t have time to do so. These lawyers miss the bigger point – by investing a few hours into completing these tasks they’ll save many more hours on the back end. This means that those attorneys who waste ten hours tomorrow, to save an hour today, will wind up having larger staff and more support needs in order to handle the same number of cases as someone who operates efficiently. This will drive their profits through the floor. If you prefer prosperity then invest some time into completing the tasks above.