These tips should help ensure that clients are happy with the representation they receive during their divorce – and a happy client is the best referral source for future clients!
By Caitlin DeGuilo Toker & Rosanne S. DeTorres, Family Lawyers
To be successful, the attorneys at a family law firm must have a firm handle on all aspects of the law. Equally important to a firm’s overall success, however, is its policies and standards as they relate to client relations; if you know the law but can’t maintain a solid client base, your firm will inevitably fail. Here are six strategies that can help you maintain office productivity, improve client relations, and increase your firm’s success.
Structure the Initial Consultation to Maximize Productivity
Potential clients often wish to explain what is happening in their lives and the reasons for the divorce to the attorney. This background information may be invaluable to determine strategy moving forward, but it can prevent the attorney from gathering the necessary details to identify urgent issues, determine what special circumstances might exist, and review the divorce process with the potential client. Ask your support staff to give the potential clients a list of important information to bring with them to the meeting – such as financial documents, or any prior orders if it is a post-judgment matter.
The attorney must also know how to strike a balance between allowing the client to share his or her story and directing the consultation to obtain necessary information and provide appropriate feedback.
Follow Up with Prospective Clients
If a potential client is not prepared to move forward immediately at the time of the initial consultation, then follow up within a week of the initial meeting. Ask if they have any questions that could help them decide whether or not to move forward at this time, and remind them to contact the office when they are ready to move forward. As they are leaving the consultation, consider handing each potential client a card or brochure encouraging them to call or email with any questions they may think of later on. Following up is crucial to client relations: it reinforces the client’s feeling that they are special and that the attorney cares about what is going on in their life.
Respond to Phone Calls and Emails Promptly
One of the best compliments a client can give a family law practitioner is that they always felt as if they were the attorney’s only or most important client. Inform your clients that it is your firm’s policy to return phone calls the same day or within 24 hours whenever possible. When a client calls and the attorney is unavailable, have support staff take a message and schedule a specific time that the attorney will return the call. If the attorney is in court or is otherwise unable to return phone calls on the same day, support staff should contact the client to schedule a telephone conference for the following day or later in the week so that the client is not left in limbo. This manages the client’s expectations, and lets the client know that their matter is important to the firm.
Email Is Not Right for Every Communication
While email simplifies communication with clients, it may not be good business practice to simply give your support staff carte blanche permission to email all orders and correspondence to the client. You should always review everything aside from a standard scheduling notice and advise when it is appropriate to send to the client. For example, an order from the court requiring your client to pay the other party’s counsel fees may be an upsetting surprise. Instead, you could call the client prior to emailing the order to reassure them and answer their questions. Ensure that clients are comfortable with the way you plan to provide information to them, and that they have access to their attorney upon receipt of potentially upsetting news.
Make Face Time with Clients Count
One of the best ways to demonstrate your commitment to a client is to be attentive and “in the moment” during meetings. For example, when you are in a client meeting, you should be engaged in talking to or listening to that client – not multi-tasking and reviewing other emails or taking calls. A client who feels that they are not a top priority when they are meeting with their attorney is unlikely to refer additional work to the firm.
Follow Up with Clients at the Conclusion of a Case
When a family law case concludes, follow up with the client to ensure that they are aware of what steps need to be taken to address potential post-judgment issues. This may be done in writing, by itemizing the additional steps and providing a deadline for each one: for instance, that the marital residence must be refinanced within 60 days, or the retirement accounts divided by X date. This is also a prime opportunity to refer the client to other professionals that could help with post-divorce matters – such as an estate attorney to rewrite the client’s will or an accountant to prepare tax returns or create a budget for the newly single individual. The post-divorce reality may be overwhelming and scary for clients, and having a clear outline for what needs to be done by when may go a long way to reducing their fears about the future.
Rosanne S. DeTorres concentrates her practice in family law cases, including divorce, custody, grandparent’s rights, juvenile delinquency, domestic violence, and DYFS cases. An accomplished appellate attorney, she is also a trained family mediator and a Collaborative Law attorney. Caitlin DeGuilo Toker handles all aspects of family law, including divorce, custody, parenting time, equitable distribution, alimony, child support, and post-judgment matters. She has significant experience in motion practice and negotiating property settlement agreements. www.danddfamilylaw.com