Retaining clients for law firms

Building your law firm has taken a lot of hard work over many years, a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of stress over cash-flow issues. With added pressure of not only retaining your clients but ensuring that they are happy as well. To say that it has been an uphill and ongoing battle is putting it mildly. And then Covid-19 hit. The pandemic caused a lot of uncertainty in the business world. Understandably. With clients focused on the health and safety of their family, friends and themselves, coupled with the dire global economic recession (and resulting job loss), it is easy to understand why your phone is not ringing off the hook.

To worsen the situation, activity online, whether it be online shopping or obtaining advice or information from an online resource, is growing at an expedited rate. This presents both an opportunity for law firms to capture new clients that they have never met (whilst simultaneously engaging existing customers) but it also represents a risk of being left behind if embracing technology is not undertaken seriously.

And with this opportunity to both maintain and grow your business, there are new legal trends taking shape. If you want to ensure your law firm is part of the next upswing, it is imperative that you offer reassurances to clients by letting them know that you are ready to handle their issue. In any way possible. And that is only one aspect of client retention during a “Black Swan” event

But how do you actually do this?

When you are a small law firm owner, every hour and every rand count. You know you need to market your services to keep your client roster full, but how much time should you spend on it when the economy is in a holding pattern and the world is collectively focused on the covid-19 pandemic? In short – a lot!

Many business owners are familiar with the age-old statistic that acquiring a new customer can cost five times more than retaining an existing customer. This makes customer retention especially important for every business to master, especially during the covid-19 pandemic, when spending is at an all-time low. 

In an article titled How to Retain Customers During COVID-19, the following information was set out –

SignalMind reports that the probability of a sale from a new customer is only 5% to 20%, whereas the probability of converting an existing customer is between 60% and 70%. Additionally, repeat customers spend an average of 33% more than new customers.

The lessons taught by client retention during Covid-19 will be applicable not only as businesses power through this crisis, but also looking ahead to a post-pandemic “new normal” world. Despite the need for immediate capital, businesses need to pivot from acquiring new clients and focus on how they can build client loyalty and retention. This is the best time to lean into client development and client care, and think about all of the things you wish you had the time to do before Covid-19.

In the afore-mentioned article, Angelique Rewers, CEO of The Corporate Agent, said “customer retention is particularly important for corporate customers, since some of them are likely to undergo directional shifts after the economy reopens”

The important take away here – law firms need to work on nurturing current client relationships in order to learn the true meaning of customer retention.

How can a law firm retain their current client base, especially now?

Lawyers are not really taught how to manage a client relationship or how to service an account (a term used in business circles). And it is understandable – lawyers provide a professional service and if they successfully do so that should, for all intents and purposes, keep a client happy. But does it really stop there? In an article titled It’s Time for Account Management in Law Firms, authoress Kate White said the following:

“Law firms are no longer simply competing against one another. As they face threats from alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) and the Big 4 accounting firms, law firms have begun adopting business practices that other professional service companies have been using for decades — think fixed-fee pricing, client-facing technology, process efficiency initiatives, data analytics, client feedback programs, and net-promoter-score tools”.

Law firms need to understand that they are essentially a professional service provider and in that service provision lies a certain level of management – of both client and the associated account. In essence, law firms need to start implementing a true client service and account management approach. 

Traditionally, client service and account management has been left to the attorney who bills on the account. This lawyer would be left to manage the critical specialised work associated with offering legal services, “such as understanding client goals, negotiating fees, growing the client relationship, gathering feedback, managing client teams, and offering relevant value-added services” (taken from the afore-mentioned article). But a lawyer will always face the constant struggle between the non-billable client service work and crucial billable hours. 

As has been discovered by other industries – client service and account management require focused attention and specific skills, skills that legal experts providing legal advice to a client may or may not have. Some ”forward-thinking law firms are assigning specific account management professionals to take a significant amount of this non-billable client service work off the plates of lawyers” (see article listed above) thereby enhancing the firm’s overall relationship to the client and increasing firm value. 

But regardless of whether or not a client service and account manager is appointed, lawyers need to gain a better understanding of their client’s overall business. This can be achieved by grasping the in-house team’s business and legal goals, learning the challenges that in-house counsel are facing internally, and taking note of their pain points around working with external advisors.

And all this essentially speaks to value added services. And more importantly, improving on your current service offerings, which is good practice outside of a Black Swan event (and will stand you in good stead should another Black Swan ever arrive – as Pierre Omidyar says “When you don’t know what to expect, prepare for the unexpected”). Never be caught unawares again.

What are some of the practical steps that can be taken to enhance client retention? 

What is clear is that at times like these (and for new businesses in any event) client retention is incredibly important. So the pertinent thing to ask is – what are some of the ways in which this can be achieved? This is not an exhaustive list but does provide some guidelines on areas you should be focusing on right now –

  1. Excellent client service — delivering services in a way that the client will find most valuable by gathering client feedback (both regularly and at the completion of major matters) to ensure that any changes required to amend client service issues are implemented. This process might include providing a year-end value report that summarises both the tangible and intangible ways in which the firm has helped the client achieve its goals throughout the year but also by providing reports on when a matter was last worked on (such functionality can be found by using providers such as AJS);
  2. Innovative technologies —bringing creative deliverables to help clients solve not just legal, but broader business and operational challenges, and identify opportunities to leverage technology or project management to deliver on new solutions. In addition to having practices exist entirely online thereby promoting efficiency in services, law firms could also make use of XpressDox to provide XD publisher or XD documents as a link on their website to be used by their clients, creating a great value added service; 
  3. Engaging in social media – lockdowns around the world have caused people to remain at home, resulting in clients and potential clients being glued to their phones and computers. But no matter the situation, questions will still arise. And these questions may pop up late at night. What to do? Legal professionals can answer these questions easily online — even before clients ask. Five- to ten-minute videos taken from an iPhone or Android device can answer frequently asked questions quickly and effectively and are easy to share on not only business profiles, but on social media platforms as well. In addition, posting on social media regularly will help remind clients of who you are and what you do. It will also improve your SEO visibility and establish yourself as the recognisable expert in your niche area. But it is important to remember that during times of uncertainty, potential clients are, more than ever, looking for help, not a sales pitch;
  4. Video consultations: it is crucial to inform your clients and potential clients that your firm remains open and active. So why not let clients and potential clients know that you are available for video consultations? There are many solutions today that allow you to have a live video conference so you can conduct business remotely. Be sure to share this information on your website and across your social media platforms (LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter) in addition, be sure to include this in your email signatures when you respond to leads.  There are many free applications that you can use to communicate with clients via video. Some of these include Google Meets, Facetime, Zoom, and Skype. Keep in mind that your clients may not be tech-savvy, so you may need to provide some basic instructions;
  5. Adjust to new customer habits – consumer behavior has changed, especially after lockdowns have been imposed. People are focusing on cheaper products and cost effective services. They are prioritising their spending on basic needs and health care products. In order to maintain customer loyalty, you have to be able to adjust to this new behavior. This isn’t just about offering discounts (which will be appreciated) but it is also about providing more info on easy to reach, free online platforms. Ensuring you can communicate effectively with your clients on a variety of platforms. Being online and visible;
  6. Maintain customer loyalty through effective communication – maintaining effective communication with clients even in times of crisis can help improve “brand” perception. Review your customer history and send clients messages reminding them that you are still available and are online. Allow them to contact you via WhatsApp or live chat. Increase engagement by sending your customers relevant and helpful articles. Conducting webinars is also worth trying. Clients will be more interested in your services if they can find something valuable and helpful from it. Therefore, don’t just focus on promoting what you can do, focus should be on providing meaningful solutions, and
  7. Invest time in ad hoc administrative services – with client retention taking time away from billable hours, it may be a good idea for firms to open a non-billable fee book for lawyers undertaking client retention strategies in order to record time spent on actual client retention and marketing services. This way the non-billable hours spent marketing and client management can be reflected and justified in partner reports and during partner meetings (AJS accounting software can easily assist with this).

The above suggestions may seem overwhelming (at first), but it is important to remember that any one of the suggestions above will improve both your marketing strategy and aid in client retention. Do not feel intimidated or pressured into undertaking all of them at once. After all – “How do you eat an elephant? One small bite at a time”. Think of this task as your elephant – choose one step and implement it. Then do another – 

”The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” – Lao Tzu


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