Any attorney who has a forms-based practice area has heard this objection from many a potential client. Even current clients can be skeptical about what it is that we are actually doing when we represent them –other than fill out the forms, of course.
“You charge what just to fill out some paperwork? How hard can it be?”
It would be nice if there were some way to neatly convey that the legal form itself is just the mode of communication, not the content of the legal argument. But I no longer try to do that. Instead, I focus on providing a kind of value that no online search or automated forms preparation software ever could: a personal touch. This technique tends to keep clients very satisfied with the representation, and they then tell their other friends, who are elbow-deep in their own pro se cases, to call you as well.
And don’t worry; this technique can be implemented even by lawyers who do not live in quaint rural towns where they literally know everyone’s name. The type of personal touch we are going to talk about can be systematized right into your office’s operating procedures without too much extra effort, but the dividends in revenue and client loyalty are significant. Here are the key steps to take in order to add a personal touch to your legal service offerings today:
1. Identify points in the legal process where clients tend to feel uncomfortable, scared, or confused.
Once you handle a particular case type a few times, you will start to notice patterns. There are certain moments in the case when clients are more apprehensive. There are certain questions they ask you. There are certain things they tend to misunderstand. Think about what these moments are for the types of cases you handle most frequently, and write a list of the most common ones. Here are examples of the types of things I see in my immigration practice:
- Clients want to know how long the process will take and what will happen next
- Clients get concerned about the long periods of time waiting for government responses, even after we’ve told them that there would be a wait of several months. They call because they think we may have forgotten about them.
- Clients are nervous any time they get a notification in the mail from the government, especially if their English is limited and they aren’t sure what it says.
2. Think of simple ways to address these concerns
Once you’ve identified some of the key points of discomfort, fear, or confusion, you need to start thinking about how you might alleviate them. You don’t need grandiose gestures. Just think of some obvious, basic things you could do to put your client at ease during these moments.
For example, some approaches we take to the concerns listed above are:
- When the case is submitted, send a letter outlining the various anticipated phases in the process and the corresponding estimated timeframes.
- Have paralegals call clients periodically while waiting so they know we are monitoring their case.
- Explain to clients ahead of time what notices they will receive and approximately when. Then once the notices do show up, send them a letter in their native language explaining what the notice says.
3. Add your ideas into other regular office routines and procedures
Finally, you have to put these ideas into practice. All offices have certain ways that routine activities get done, and the best way to make sure these personal touches actually happen is to embed them into other activities that are never forgotten.
- The letter outlining the phases in the process and corresponding timeframes is sent to the client the same day the file is submitted to the government.
- The paralegals make the calls to clients about the case status right after the office performs its monthly file review process for all cases.
- The letters demystifying the government notices are printed the day that the file is submitted and they are held in the client folder to be sent out one by one as the different government notices arrive.
Once you implement and tweak your personal touches, you will notice a definite shift in the attitudes of your clients. It’s probably because they now understand what is happening in their case and what you are doing to represent them in addition to just filling out forms!