Forbush, Joyce C
Here are a few scenarios where law firms often think they have made the marketing connection and upon further review, discover they have really missed the boat:
You’ve just sent the brightest, friendliest, most articulate representatives of your firm to the latest CLLA meeting. Your people have explained just what your firm does and how long they have done it. The firm brochures that you sweated over have done their job, too. You are confident that your firm has just increased its market presence. The deal is done, the rest is easy, right?
MISTAKE # 1:
Aardvark Forwarders was so impressed with your firm representatives and brochures that they call your office first thing Monday morning. Aardvark wants to talk some more to one of the folks they met this past week. Your receptionist is really having a very bad hair day and her roommate is giving her fits as well as that pain of a boyfriend. After only two misdirected calls, the receptionist puts Aardvark through to your attorney’s secretary, who dutifully takes a message. Upon reviewing her messages, your attorney puts Aardvark’s message on the “get to it later” stack, where it sits and sits.
Prospective clients have to be able to connect to someone in the firm at all times who is knowledgeable about what the firm does. You have only one chance to make a first impression! The receptionist is often the first contact many prospective clients will have with your firm. Call your own firm and see how your call is processed: Would you want to deal with the firm based on the way your call was handled? MISTAKE #2:
There’s plenty more where that call came from, right? Bluebird Forwarders does manage to run the gauntlet and get through and talk to one of your attorneys and is sending on some business. Your attorney is feeling so confident of what the staff can do, that of course he has agreed to everything the forwarder suggested; the Collections Department will work out all those little details like the weekly updates and that special computer-programmed billing system. However, as Fats Domino once reportedly said, “Don’t write no check your [backside] can’t cover.”
Make sure that your tickler system can be programmed for that weekly update; speak with your computer folks to make sure you can do that inverted/real time/spread sheet. If you cannot deliver exactly what Bluebird wants, tell them what you can do, and see if a compromise will save this account.
Things are going along swimmingly. It is time for a status report, but nothing has happened since the last one. Bluebird understands that; they have been in the business a zillion years and know how things move slowly at this stage, so you think you can just delay this report. Bluebird is going to get one in a couple of months anyway. Before you know it, you get “the fax” requesting the overdue status report.
Did you know that, when surveyed, the number-two complaint clients have about law offices is that they do not keep their clients informed? Make sure you have procedures in place and personnel assigned to process status requests. Better yet, send the status requests before the client asks for them. Make it a rule in your firm that if you receive a status request, someone has not done a job effectively! Follow up by having a supervisor monitor incoming fax requests for status reports to see where the problems are. After identifying the problem, you might make changes needed in various areas such as a review and/or update with staff of office policies and procedures; subsequent training; additional staff; temporary help in times of greater case loads to meet the needs of your clients.
There’s a telephone call from that nice Mr. Whozit with Bluebird, but who has time to talk? Besides, we know what he wants. He will get that report by fax today, tomorrow at the latest, so you instruct your secretary just to take a message. Actually, Mr. Whozit’s brother-in-law needed someone to handle something quite different from a collections matter, but there are other law firms who can and will embrace a 23billion-dollar buyout deal.
Did you know that, when surveyed, this is always the number-one gripe people have about law offices – clients do not have their calls returned. Your firm should have policies for handling phone calls stating when they are to be returned, as well as policies on voicemail procedures. Monitor for compliance.
But wait – this marriage can be saved. You have a letter sent off on your letterhead and explain everything. It has been a rough day: your secretary’s mother is having a midlife crisis (delayed) and has been calling every half-hour. She isn’t concentrating; and Mr. Whozit’s name and firm are misspelled on that important letter.
From the person who answers your telephone and the front door to the mail clerk who sees that the mail gets out on time, we all market our firm to the rest of the world. How do we make this marketing effort as successful as it can be?
Start with hiring the best and the brightest. This move costs money Good people have an idea what they are worth. They might work for less but only as an interim measure. The trick with hiring the best and brightest is to fit them to the job. An MBA will be most unhappy as a production typist, no matter what you may pay.
I do not subscribe to the theory that a workplace is also a place to have fun or expand your social contacts; but it does not have to be a sweatshop either. I believe that people want to do a good job, so let them know how what they do affects the product delivered; how it fits in with the next step; and why what they do is important.
The front door is a good place to start is that person professional, well groomed, well spoken? Can he/she help connect callers to the correct party without undue transferring from one attorney to another? Does he/she know the right questions to ask to make that transfer? This is one of the most important people in your firm; if the forwarder’s representative cannot make sense of what the receptionist is telling him, why does that forwarder want to send business your way. Why would anyone? Your receptionist needs to be a “people person” and genuinely like people. I have found that the best receptionists are those with a background in sales. They are used to dealing with the good, the bad, and the ugly among us.
When your collections attorney or paralegal or secretary receives that telephone call or fax or letter from the forwarder, does he/she understand everything the forwarder requires? Do they provide all of what was requested in their response to the forwarder?
Look over the correspondence that goes out with your signature. Spellcheck is great, but it does not help with misplaced modifiers and all the mistakes that we are heir to.
It doesn’t do any good to go to conventions, smile, shake hands, pass out literature extolling your firm’s virtues and then not be able to deliver the product as promised. Subscribe to the theory that “In This Firm, Everyone Markets!” and put into practice the policies and procedures to make your firm truly marketable today!
Copyright Commercial Law League of America Jan/Feb 1999
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