Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

Category: Client service

Aug 29, 2012

Keeping Law Firm Clients Happy


I am managing partner with a 12 attorney general practice firm in St. Louis. As part of our marketing program we recently completed an informal client survey and were surprised at some of the feedback. The feedback was less positive than expected. Our clients advised us that our services took longer than expected and fees were also higher than expected. We work hard for our clients and I don't see how we can improve turnaround or reduce legal fees. I would appreciate any thoughts that you have.


Based upon client satisfaction surveys (telephone interviews) that we do for law firms we find that one of the biggest problems is that the attorneys are doing a poor job of managing client expectations. Your clients get frustrated when you promise one thing (timeline or fees) and the result is very different – especially when the work takes longer than promised or the fees are higher. Even though you don't structure it as a promise your clients take it that way. The key is to under promise and over deliver. I suspect that upon the initial client meeting you are under estimating the timeline and low balling the fee range. Reduce the promise – increase the - timeline and fee range and then shoot to deliver under that range. This will do wonders for improving the client relationship.

Click here for our blog on client service

Click here for our article on the topic

John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Nov 30, 2011

Reducing Bar Complaints and Improving Client Service


Our firm has 14 attorneys. Just this year three of our more senior attorneys have had bar complaints filed against them. One has been disciplined by the bar. How can we improve this situation?


Hopefully you have the right attorneys on the bus and they actually care and see the importance and value of client service. If not – an educational program for the entire firm combined with a coaching program for the offenders, if needed, might be a starting point.

Here are a few other suggestions:

1. Improve client selection. Learn to recognize problem clients and say no to some and do not represent them.

2. Use engagement letters as a tool to manage client expectations. Underpromise and overdeliver.

3. Ramp up your communications and communicate, communicate, communicate with clients as well as office team members. Communications problems with clients – both initially and later on in the engagement – is the root cause of most problems.

4. Insure that you have effective office systems for managing client work production, conflicts of interest, calendar and docket control, and overall case management.

Click here for our blog on client service

Click here for our article on the topic

John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC


Oct 06, 2010

Characteristics of Successful Law Firms – Basic Building Blocks – Block 7 – Marketing

For the past six weeks I have been discussing the characteristics of successful law firms and introduced the following basic building blocks that successful firms typically have in place:

Partner relations, leadership, management, partner compensation, planning, and client service blocks have been discussed. 

The seventh and final basic building block is marketing. Successful firms have an effective marketing infrastructure and program in place.  

Gone are the days when attorneys simply practiced law. Today, they face increased competition, shrinking demand for services and increasing supply of professional talent, availability of service substitutes, and marketing of professional services. Marketing can no longer be ignored if small law practices are to survive in the future.

Based upon our observations working with client law firms over the past twenty six years we have concluded that marketing is poorly understood and ineffectively implemented in many small law firms. In addition, the following obstacles are at play:

Time – There is no time for marketing or any firm developmental activities. Production is king and non-billable activities such as marketing are discouraged.

Uneasiness With Marketing – Attorneys are uncomfortable with marketing. This is primarily due to lack of understanding, training, and experience with the process.

Lack of Marketing Understanding – Many attorneys confuse marketing with advertising. Marketing is not advertising. Marketing activities can exist without any promotional components such as television advertisements, radio spots, tombstone magazine advertisements, or direct mail. Marketing is the broader process concerned with the development and delivery of legal services and is part of the firm's long range planning process. It provides answers to the questions what are we selling and to whom are we selling. It involves maintaining relationships with existing clients as well as creating new relationships with prospective clients. In fact, a major objective of many successful marketing plans is obtain additional business from existing clients.

Focus and Accountability Problems – Frequently law firms experiment with marketing and engage in isolated promotional activities not integrated with the firm's business plan with the expectation of immediate results after the one-shot activity. The firm engages in fits-and-start activities that are completely unfocused, unrelated to an overall plan, unmeasured, inconsistent and often inappropriate.

Cultural Issues – The typical culture of many law firms discourages investment in long-term developmental activities. The focus is on billable hours and production. Everything else is of secondary concern. The consensus governance model typical in law firms hinders change and timely decision-making at the firm level. In addition, effective marketing in law firms requires marketing at the firm, practice group, and individual attorney levels. This requires effective training, mentoring, follow-up, and accountability at each of these levels.

Reward and Compensation Systems – RMost reward and compensation systems focus on short-term production and discourage participation in longer term (non-billable) firm investment activities or projects.

Click here to read one of my articles on marketing

Click here to read my blog postings on marketing

I hope you have enjoyed the series. Next week I will resume posting questions and answers received from law firms. 

John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Sep 28, 2010

Characteristics of Successful Law Firms – Basic Building Blocks – Block 6 – Client Service

For the past five weeks I have been discussing the characteristics of successful law firms and introduced the following basic building blocks that successful firms typically have in place:

Partner relations, leadership, management, partner compensation, and planning blocks have been discussed. 

The sixth basic building block is client service. Successful firms deliver exceptional client service. They don't just meet client expectations – they exceed them. 

This is the decade of the client. Clients are demanding and getting – both world-class service – and top quality products. Many law firms have spent too much energy on developing new clients and not enough retaining old ones. For many law firms, obtaining new work from existing clients is the most productive type of marketing.

Delivering great client service is extremely important in today’s legal marketplace. More and more lawyers and law firms are competing for fewer clients while client loyalty continues to drop. It is no longer sufficient to simply be competent or an expert in today’s competitive legal environment – law firms must distinguish themselves by the service they provide. Lawyers and law firms must strive for 100% client satisfaction. Service is how many clients can tell one lawyer or law firm from another. 

Clearly, from what law firms' clients are telling us, lawyers and law firms need to improve client service by integrating a client-first service focus into everyday practice and getting feedback on performance.

Most clients can’t evaluate the quality of your legal work. What they can and do is evaluate the experience of working with you. 

Lets face it – customer and client expectations have changed across all industries. It is a buyers market and they know it. Today clients want it all – better, faster and cheaper. If you can’t provide it they will go somewhere else.

The key is to management client expectations – underpromise and overdeliver.

Click here to read my article series on client service.

I will address each of the other building blocks in upcoming postings.

John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

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