"There are a lot of qualities that I look for but the most important to me are folks that are effective communicators. The most important thing is talking to our clients. People need to be able to communicate how much we care. You can't teach that." — George Salinas
On The Rankings Podcast, George Salinas made it clear that effective communication is one of the most important qualities any attorney could possess. Years ago, however, communication skills were relegated to the bottom of the list when it came to assessing prospective hires. But things have changed! LinkedIn’s recent survey showed that communication topped the list of the most sought-after soft skills among U.S. employers.
Communication plays an important role in our lives. Customer service representatives are highly skilled to be able to give answers to customers’ inquiries, or simply deescalate stressful situations. Within the legal industry, communication plays numerous and immense roles relating to the way clients are served and the credibility of a firm.
Communication In The Legal Industry
The legal industry seems to have great communication as a prerequisite. Being an attorney is effectively a customer-facing role, and personal injury law firms spend a great amount of time in conversation with prospective clients.
Lawyerist cites that the number one reason for bar complaints is 'failure to communicate'. You'd think that law firms would spend a lot of time training and perfecting their communication skills. While some firms make it a priority, we're yet to see a communication section on the bar exam!
But while a section in the bar exam specific to communication is yet to be added, the fact that some law firms are making this a priority is already a good start. Maybe one day, other law firms would follow suit.
What Does Great Law Firm Communication Look Like?
The principles of effective communication are universal. So whether it is in answering services, in the hospitality industry, or even in politics, strategies to build strong communication with clients and businesses are always almost the same. What works with other industries in terms of communicating with clients may very well work in law firms.
Here are some recommendations on how great law firm communication should look!
Make The Most Of All Touchpoints On The Client Journey
If strong communication is a core value for your firm, then it's imperative that you study every part of your client journey to understand where you can communicate better.
- The first phone call (perhaps to your custom number!) is a make or break moment, and it should go without saying that they shouldn't go through to voicemail. It's the client’s first two-way communication with your firm, so you'll need highly trained A-players on hand, whether that's attorneys or a specialized receptionist.
- Emails are part of the fabric of attorney-client communication now, and they need to be on point. This communication method is less aggressive and intrusive than an actual phone call. While some clients would prefer that you send them an email instead of calling them, others are the opposite. Emails should have everything spelled out. Overcommunicate so nothing gets lost in translation!
- Communications channels - there is plenty of software out there designed to make communications easier for attorneys. When you're assessing options, however, you should be thinking about the client rather than yourself.
The channel you use should be appropriate to the type of message you need to deliver - formal, informal, and should be on a platform that your client is comfortable using. You need to know how your clients would like for you to contact them. Of course, when it’s something urgent, a phone call is most appropriate.
Clarity: Why Sometimes You've Got To Quit The Jargon
The main purpose of communication is to deliver a message in a way that the receiving party understands. Overuse of jargon can frequently get in the way of clarity. Customer service representatives are often trained to avoid jargon when speaking to a customer unless they're using universally accepted terms.
The same rule applies to attorneys. If you are communicating with your client who is not an attorney himself, use layman’s terms when explaining technical concepts. This way, you lessen the chances of miscommunication.
Consistency: Equip All Your Attorneys With The Right Skills
Law firms should heavily invest in their attorneys’ communication skills training. Remember, it's the job of a great leader to equip! Employees who have the right skills are assets of the organization and can help take the law firm to new heights. Those who are not skilled on the other hand, become liabilities; and could cause client dissatisfaction which will have an impact on the overall image of the law firm.
Make A Difference: Go Above And Beyond
Taking care of clients should always be one of the two top priorities of any firm; the other one is taking care of their own people. Clients always want more. This is a reality that makes firms find it hard to define what good customer service actually looks like, or whether or not they have gone above and beyond already.
Here is how firms can go above and beyond
- Set proper expectations; tell them what you can and cannot do, and how long it will take to do it.
- By proper expectations we mean do not overpromise and under deliver.
- Deliver what is expected. To go above and beyond, try your utmost best to exceed those expectations.
In other words, excellent customer service means setting proper expectations and then exceeding them every time!
How Do Law Firms Benefit from Great Comms Culture?
The purpose of establishing exceptional communication with clients is essentially client satisfaction. Here is what Esteban Kolsky, the Principal and Founder of ThinkJar; a think-tank specializing in customer approach.
"72% of customers will share a positive experience with 6 or more people. On the other hand, if a customer is not happy, 13% of them will share their experience with 15 or even more. And the rest... they just leave" — Esteban Kolsky
Similarly, Philip Kotler defines modern customers as 'Customer 4.0'. They are at the absolute top of the market hierarchy, and they're likely to research different services and solutions before picking you. It's clear, then, that effective client communication is essential to any law firm that wants to:
- Build on their current business by cementing their relationships with their current clients (and attracting new ones!)
- Boost their reputation and credibility as a user-friendly, trustworthy, and accessible firm
Think of excellent client communication as a proactive, non-negotiable approach to building a firm’s credibility. It is absolutely fundamental in running a business, law firm, or otherwise.