The Client Services Myth in Law Firms

Last week I went to dinner with my father.  We went to a place that we love and have been many times I times in the past because they have amazing steaks and burgers for relatively inexpensive prices.  The service is always very good, however towards the end of the meal, this visit, things seemed to break down. 

We ordered dessert and coffee.  When they arrived, we doctored the coffee with our milk and sweetner only to discover that the milk had turned sour and now our coffee was undrinkable.  Not spotting our server nearby, we called to another server who was bussing the table next to us and asked if we could get replacement coffees.  

The server (not our original one) gave us a disgusted look, continued to clear his table to get it ready for another party, and then walked away.  My father looked at me, and I at him wondering what, if any action would be taken.  Shortly, he came back to set his table and said that he had informed our server and she would take care of it. 

It took 10 more minutes before our original server was able to get fresh coffee and creamer to our table.   All the other server had to do was to remove our cups and bring new coffee and cream to our table.  However, we were not his table (and therefore wouldn’t be tipping him) so he was not going out of his way to help.  Let’s just say this left a bit of a bad taste in our mouths. 

However, I know, having waited tables and bartended during college and law school, that every restaurant claims they have amazing customer service.  Servers are told to help anyone who asks regardless of whether it is their table or not.  However, this rarely seems to happen.

Let’s extend this to the Law Firms out there. 

Almost every law firm (or professional services firm for that matter) declares that they have amazing client service procedures in place.  In fact, many of the top law firms have some wonderful little phrase listed on their websites or in their marketing claiming that “our clients’ come first,” “our clients are the most important to us” and the best one, “we strive to provide excellent client services.” 

I have even seen, on some law firm websites, a list of client service promises that the law firm makes.  

Yet phone calls and emails are not returned, clients are pawned off to associates without the clients’ knowledge, and attorneys can be downright rude to clients if the client is not behaving as the attorney would like him/her to be. 

BTI Consulting, in a survey ranking law firm – client relationships, recently provided a disturbing fact:  “87.1% of clients today admit that they will replace their current primary law firm if given a compelling reason.”  BTI concentrates mostly on Big Law, but if this is the case there, imagine how many clients would leave your solo, small or midsize practices?

These  are just a few ways to keep clients happy:

  • Respond to every client inquiry promptly:  I have a rule for my Rainmaking Consulting practice –   everybody receives a response within 48 hours (during the business week) of their contact with me.  Usually, I respond a lot quicker (and most of the time over the weekends), but you will hear back from me within that time frame.


  • Be honest:  The reason Attorneys do not respond to their clients when they call is that they don’t have an answer for them at that time.  Respond to them anyway.  There is no shame in saying: “I don’t know anything yet, but I will call you as soon as I hear something.”  More often than not, a client just wants to be reassured that you are still on the case; that they haven’t just become a cog in your wheel.


  • If you are going to hand the work over to an associate, tell your client.  Ask the client to come in to meet with both you and the associate.  Reassure your client that not only will you be supervising the case but that you implicitly trust your associate and the work they can do.


  • No matter how poorly a client may treat you, they are still your client.  Chances are they are stressed out by the legal matter which they are going through.  It is your job to respect your client and reassure them.  You can also politely ask them to treat you with the same respect you are showing them.  Being rude to a client will not only result in the same behavior being returned, but it may also result in the loss of a client. 

Rest assured that if you practice the same type of client service you would want, you clients will remain with you and are more likely to refer you to new client. 

What client service standards are you planning on implementing for your practice?  What other ideas do you have for great client service?  Comment below:


  1. Adrian Dayton says


    Great post!

    “We have great customer service” is too often the opinion of the provider than of the customers. Your article reminds law firms and businesses that the most important question to answer is, “do our clients feel like we provide great customer service?”

    Sorry about your coffee 🙂


  2. Its true – time and time again, when I ask clients why they continue to do business with us (or when they return!), the answer is straight shooting, prompt response, and honesty.

  3. Great post, Jaimie — I too waited tables and bartended during college and law school and have a tremendous amount of respect for those professionals (and many of them are professionals) who do it well, every shift, no matter what.

    I’ve always thought waiting tables is great training for any type of career, but maybe lawyers need it more than most!

    Keep up the great stuff —


  4. Lori Latimer says

    I am a family law paralegal in a mid-size law firm in the Buckhead area of Atlanta. The firm just celebrated its 40th anniversary in Dec. 2009. They may have done some advertising in the early years (long before my time!), but all of our business comes from referrals from previous clients and even previous opposing parties. A large part of the reason for that is the emphasis that we place on customer service.

    I always return phone calls the same day I receive them, even if it’s just to let them know that I got their message, need to get the info/answer for them, and will get back to them the following day or as soon as I have whatever it is that they need.

    You are absolutely right – most of the time a client is rude or short it is because of the emotional nature of any legal matter, and family law is probably more emotional than any other area of law. I have let clients cry, vent, and ramble, just so they feel like they have been heard and that someone cares. It isn’t always easy, but it’s part of what I’m paid to do 🙂

  5. Jaimie Field says

    Lori – thank you for your comment. I am always happy to hear when someone “get’s it”. Obviously you do and I hope that you are able to teach it to the attorneys in your office who don’t. (Email me privately if you want some ideas on how to teach them without them knowing 🙂 )

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