Want more clients and more revenue for your law firm? Before you up your marketing spend, work on your listening skills. Beyond helping you serve your clients better, listening well can actually improve your business.
This is just one of the points covered in a recent webinar on client communications hosted by Clio’s lawyer in residence, Joshua Lenon, and Alli Gerkman of the IAALS.
Watch the full webinar below, or read on to find out how actively listening to your clients can help make your firm money:
Bonus: We’ve got a client communication checklist at the bottom of this article to help make sure your relationships are set up for success with each and every client.
How listening well can make your firm money
When you truly listen to your clients, you just might get some helpful feedback. This can change the way you run your law firm.
Consider: A study from BTI consulting found that 58 percent of law firms actively solicited client feedback, and that 20 percent actually acted on that feedback. The 20 percent of firms that listened to clients and made changes performed 2.7 times better than others in terms of revenue generation, client retention, and year-over-year growth.
It’s amazing what happens when you listen.
Perhaps more importantly, failing to listen to clients can cost your law firm money. According to a study conducted by the ABA and LAWPRO, 36 percent of malpractice claims between 1997 and 2007 related to miscommunications and delays with clients.
In Ontario, 4,200 communications claims were reported to LAWPRO between 2006 and 2010. Currently, the value of those claims sits at a whopping $150 million.
In other words, if you’re not listening to clients, you’re putting your firm at risk. If you’re listening to your clients, you might pick up on some advice to run your firm more efficiently.
So, how do you improve your listening skills?
4 tips to improve your listening skills
For starters, listening well means a lot more than just not talking.
In the webinar, Joshua speaks about the importance of active listening. “The idea is that listening isn’t something that you do passively, but something that you commit to in order to learn and understand what another party is saying to you,” he says.
To explain the concept, Joshua points to an article on active listening from the Harvard Business Review entitled “What Great Listeners Actually Do.” The authors found that the best listeners do these four things:
- They ask questions. If you ask questions, your client will know that you’ve heard them, you understand them, and you’re asking for more information.
- They’re supportive. Each time you interact with your clients, make it a positive experience for them.
- They’re cooperative. Don’t be afraid to give feedback to your clients, but be sensitive with your delivery—your client should feel supported, not criticized. Also, don’t be afraid to accept feedback from your clients.
- They make suggestions. Good listening isn’t always associated with jumping in and solving a problem, but when delivered well, suggestions can be a sign of a good listener. In short, when it comes to client communications, delivery is king.
Do your best to follow these four points, and you’ll be well on your way to reaping the benefits of active listening for your firm.
And again, don’t forget to actively solicit feedback from clients. Ask what they’re happy with, what they’re not happy with, and what they would change. After all, it’s seeking out and acting on feedback that will help your law firm grow.
But wait, there’s more
As a lawyer, you need to have solid client communication skills. But beyond listening well, there’s a lot that goes into making sure your clients feel heard, valued, and respected.
Here are a few other points that Joshua covered in the webinar. Use them in tandem with your new-and-improved listening skills to build strong lawyer-client relationships. It’ll do more than you think to keep your firm ahead of the competition:
Failure to listen wasn’t the only thing behind the large percentage of communications malpractice claims mentioned above—delayed communication also played a role.
According to Rule 1.4 of the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, lawyers need to communicate with their clients promptly, and in a manner that’s convenient for the client. As Joshua explains in the webinar, that means you may have to compromise. He states:
If your client is not available to consult with during business hours, you may have to work outside of business hours.
If your client is much more comfortable communicating via a certain medium, you may need to adopt that medium (provided it’s a secure channel).
Beyond following the rules, you need to make sure your clients are happy. Set expectations up front in terms of how soon your clients can expect a response. Joshua says:
It’s okay to inform a client that it may take up to 24 hours to get a response from you. That’s not because you’re unavailable, but it may be that you’re researching and coming up with a complete answer. Walk them through what it takes sometimes to develop a full and robust response for them.
Building trust is a crucial part of client communications. And if you think it’s easy, you may want to think again: As per a report from the U.K. legal services board and YouGov, just 42 percent of those surveyed trusted lawyers to tell the truth, while 69 percent trusted teachers and 80 percent trusted doctors.
Translation: Your clients may be a bit doubtful coming into their relationship with you, and you’ll need to work hard to build their trust. How? Joshua offers some advice:
“Trust is a lot more about the badges and ratings that you put on your website,” he says. “It requires listening and responding in a way that builds that trust.”
Treat others with courtesy and respect
Trust is important, but it is also very fragile. You can easily shatter the trust you build with your clients by being uncivil.
It seems simple, but always remember to be courteous and respectful towards your clients, judges, opposing counsel, and anyone else you might deal with.
Otherwise, you might find yourself in hot water. In Canada, one misconduct case is headed all the way to the Supreme Court: Prominent Toronto-based securities lawyer Joe Groia was found to have breached civil behavior rules during his aggressive but successful defence of a man charged in the 1990s billion-dollar Bre-X mining fiasco. He repeatedly made derogatory comments about the prosecution, made critical comments about the judges, and even made some negative comments against his client himself.
Of course, lawyers have a duty to represent their clients to the best of their ability, but not at the expense of professionalism and basic courtesy. “If there’s one takeaway that you bring with you from today’s presentation, I want you to know that you don’t have to be rude to be a good lawyer,” Joshua says.
In summary, to set your law firm up for success:
- Listen actively
- Solicit feedback from clients
- Communicate promptly
- Build trust
- Treat others with courtesy and respect
None of these things cost a cent, but they’ll do wonders for your reputation and the reputation of your firm. Improve your listening skills—and your professional communication skills in general—and you’ll be miles ahead of those who don’t.