The Key Elements of Outstanding Client Service
One of the key elements of ascension in your corporate legal career is meeting or exceeding the expectations of the constituencies to whom you are responsible. Keeping your clients happy with the legal service you provide is of critical importance and, as a young lawyer, this means minding several key areas:
- Understand who your client is
In corporate practice, the client is usually a corporation, the legal entity itself. You, however, will be dealing with directors, officers and employees of the corporation. Remember that they are dealing with an internal hierarchy and seeking to achieve specific goals by engaging you for your advice. Your delivery of timely legal service may be critical to their professional progress.
- Understand what your client wants and needs (and why)
Be clear and concise in determining your client’s central questions. Understand the context of their questions. Answer those questions as efficiently as you can. If you identify ancillary issues, by all means raise them, but consider addressing them in a call before spending significant time resolving them or providing written advice—you may find your client has already considered or obtained advice on these points. Clients generally do not appreciate receiving redundant advice and often will object to paying for it. Manage their expectations as to what can be achieved and the timeframes that are reasonable, then relentlessly meet or exceed those expectations.
- Be responsive to your client
Many leading lawyers and firms have a “one hour rule”—respond promptly to your client’s emails and calls, wherever possible within one hour. If you cannot respond comprehensively, at least send a message acknowledging that you have received their inquiry and will be in touch as soon as possible. Follow up promptly. Always get back to the client the same day. Consider carefully the appropriate form for the advice you are rendering, whether a short email, a longer memo or a telephone call. Assume that any written advice will be seen by others. Consider who among your colleagues should be copied on or informed about advice given.
Legal advice is expensive. Your client will have a budget for legal services and will not appreciate receiving a large bill for work that is unnecessary or could have been done more efficiently. Remember that clients these days generally receive and review time entries. So be sure your entries are accurate and concise. Be aware of the accumulating costs incurred on your matters and bring them to the attention of your supervising attorney or partner-in-charge and, ultimately, the client. Do not wait until the matter is “finished” to focus on this. The one thing a client likes less than a large legal bill is an unexpectedly large legal bill.
- Touch base with your client from time to time.
Find ways to occasionally keep in touch with your clients even if you are not actively working on matters with them. You may send them articles of interest on legal developments or call them to alert them to important legal news. Endeavor to touch base at least three or four times a year; if possible, make one of these an in-person visit. Keeping in touch with a client will eventually bear fruit.