Why Clients Switch Firms
The level of dissatisfaction with lawyers is at an all-time high. And if you can come in and give some service and some results, you’re going to just attract the business like a magnet. Since attorneys have to be marketers, that somewhere, somehow, you ask your client, and new clients in particular, why did they switch to your firm? You would probably want to think it’s something very positive. It’s probably something negative about where they were. It’s something negative about where they were, because somebody that’s happy doesn’t switch. Somebody that’s content doesn’t switch. You all live in houses and you have a plumber or you have an electrician. Men have barbers and the women have hairdressers. If you’re satisfied with a service, you don’t switch. Doesn’t matter if somebody is offering it to you cheaper, more convenient, whatever. You don’t switch. And it’s the same way with lawyers. So I think you need to understand why clients switch litigation law firms. They’ll tell you.
How to build relationships in a litigation practice? I’ve talked about results and service. Timeliness is critical in litigation. Everything in litigation has a time table. There’s a deadline for everything. Preparation is key. Most consumers of litigation services are sophisticated. They know the difference between preparation and bullshit. Your lawyers have to be prepared. If the client leaves the meeting and thinks that he or she was better prepared than the lawyers, you’re in trouble. Client’s must leave that meeting and say “God, that lawyer was so prepared! She knew everything! She knew the follow-up, she knew the yellow file and the next file.” Timeliness, preparation, keeping the client in the loop.
You’ve gotta keep them in the loop. What the hell’s going on? If they answer, did they file, get their interrogatories out. Are we going to have depositions? What’s the status quo? When are we having a pre-trial? A lawyer has got to be reachable in the litigation practice. People in litigation have emergencies and crises. My lawyers can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Anywhere they are. Reachable, reachable, reachable. A client who can’t get his lawyer is going to get another lawyer. Gee, sorry I couldn’t reach you, but this thing blew up. It was Friday night, there was no way I could reach you, so I hired Joe across town. You don’t mind, do you? I mean, it was an emergency!
Litigation lawyers can’t be condescending. The client knows he’s in trouble, folks. The client’s in your office because he knows he’s in trouble. You don’t want your lawyers sitting there “Ho, is this screwed up!” “Boy, have you made a mess of this! Whoah!” He knows that! He knows that, he knows that.
Ask the client’s opinion. Nicest thing you could ever do for a client. Greatest compliment in the world! Better than buying them lunch. “What do you think we should do? What do you think we should do?” What do you think we should do? Ask the client’s opinion. We have a concept at the firm and it talks about the client who walked into our office, burdened and bent over with a problem. Burdened, burdened, burdened. By the time we finished the meeting and get that client back to the elevator, we want that burden lifted.
The greatest thing a client can say to me, “You know, Joe, I feel better for having come in here and talked to you. I feel better now, you know, I walked in here an hour ago and I thought everything was blowing up. I really thought we were going for the tank! I feel so much better now.” That’s the lawyer’s job, to lift that burden and take it onto himself or herself. It’s old-fashioned, but it’s as current as today.
About the Author
Joseph A. Gerber is senior counsel at Cozen O’Connor in its Philadelphia office from which he chairs Client Relations and serves in the leadership of the Cozen O’Connor Foundation. He joined the firm in 1970 and served on the firm’s Executive Committee for more than 30 years. Prior to joining the firm, Joe served as a federal law clerk to the Honorable Charles R. Weiner of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. During his more than 40 years with the firm, Joe has tried to verdict many civil and criminal matters in both jury and non-jury settings.
Today, Joe serves as the firm “point of contact” for a number of major clients. He works with these clients to ensure the ongoing compliance with client litigation management guidelines, overall client satisfaction, and otherwise serves as a liaison between the clients and Cozen O’Connor.