August 2010 Archives

August 31, 2010

What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate

Back to School
As the month closes and students of all ages and all over the country are going back to school, I would like to share my own back to school experience.

Earlier this month, I attended the American Bar Association's Annual Meeting in San Francisco, getting most of my participatory Continuing Legal Education credits and generally catching up with my profession. I saw long time friends and made some new ones as well.

Many classes had content concerning the use of social media and the need for reputation management. In the tech arena, it was amazing to see the shift in class content focus from electronic discovery and data retention which dominated our discussion over the past five years, to social media and networking.

What struck me as well is the fact that in many classes, at least one panelist referred to the difficulty lawyers have in communicating regularly with clients.

They Say Lawyers Don't Do It
That got me wondering. If it is true that lawyers do not communicate enough with clients, what is it that keeps us from being more in touch with our clients? Why are we guilty of the dreaded silo syndrome, keeping ahead of filing deadlines, but not placing a priority on our client relationships?

Are we concerned that if we are not communicating a development in a case or matter that communication is administrative, rather than billable time? Is that why we don't do it more regularly? When we choose the law as our profession, do we self-select to place less value on client communications and more value on what we perceive as the real work of the law?

We have certain duties that relate to communication. But apart from communicating the big developments in a case, how many of us either check in on a regular basis with clients to find out what they are needing or how they are, dare I say, viewing us and our services?

Communication with clients is not only good practice, it is good business. You already know that is true.

In business communications we perform audits with internal and external customers to make sure we are on track. Some lawyers already have a regular general check-in with clients and some perform more formal audits.

What We Don't Know Can Hurt Us
In addition to specific conversations about cases or matters, it is very beneficial to take client audits. A sit-down with clients to ask about their business strategies and focus. To service business clients, we really do need to be "inside" the minds of management.

We need to know as much as we can about their objectives and how we can help them meet those objectives. We need to know about their current challenges to protect their legal interests proactively.

Along the way, this discussion may well lead to greater depth and breadth of representation. I believe it is good communications practice to calendar quarterly informal conversations with clients, even when their cases or matters are not active.

Yes, social media is important and should be used as a way to keep your name and practice in front of your market. But are we losing sight of the basics and allowing tech to give way to old-fashioned direct communication?

Regular communication is a great reputation management tool to ensure clients know you are engaged in and committed to knowing and servicing their needs and proactively representing their interests and concerns.