Today I am talking about crushing the chaos in your client communications. I want to direct your attention to the idea of automating as many of your client communications as possible. I realize that automating client communications can be a cringe-worthy topic for many lawyers. There is a belief system that says, “Hey, I can’t automate communications! There’s a relationship component that’s really where those increased referrals come from.”
Yes, client communication gives you an opportunity to be a rock star, but lawyers are learning that there’s a differentiation that comes from having a really solid communications process for your clients.
Tune in to find out exactly what the difference is.
In this episode we discuss:
- Automating as many of your client communications as possible.
- How creating a drip campaign is an opportunity for you to eliminate confusion for your clients.
- Instilling more confidence in your clients by building processes, systems, and structure.
- Adding personal connection in a way that doesn’t require personal activity.
- Ensuring that you are communicating with your client.
- Adding value by overdelivering through additional support materials and education to possibly generate additional or future work.
Allison Williams: [00:00:12] Hi, everybody, it's Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys, we help you grow your revenues, crush chaos in business, and make more money.
Allison Williams: [00:00:16] Hi, everybody, I'm Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor and welcome to The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor Podcast where this week we're going to be talking about crushing the chaos in your client communications. Now we have talked a lot about the types of clients that we can attract in our law firms here on this podcast, and I very much want to welcome you to go back to some of those previous episodes where we actually talk about your ideal client avatar and how to deal with difficult clients, and even whether or not you should be looking to keep your difficult clients. But this week, when we talk about client communications, I want to direct your attention to the idea of automating as many of your client communications as possible. So when we talk about automating client communications, I know a lot of lawyers that cringe when they hear that right? Because there's a thought, a belief system that says, Hey, I can't automate communications, right? There's a relationship component to being in community with my clients, to talking to my client, that's really where those increased referrals come from, that's where I can be the rock star for my clients because there's a little bit of a belief that has started to form that legal services are a commodity. Right? I can draft my own will. I can go to legal zoom, I can handle my own closing, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And lawyers are learning that there's a differentiation that comes from having a really solid, really solid communications process for your clients.
Allison Williams: [00:02:00] And generally speaking, I do agree with that, so I don't want to take away from anyone the belief that you personally engaging with your clients is always going to be your best differentiator as a lawyer because no one else can sound like you act like you have the same way of approaching things that you do because we are all individuals. But the one thing that I think is a missing opportunity, a grand opportunity for lawyers to be highly effective and get a lot more done without having to personally invest their energy in doing it, is the automaticity that you can create with communications.
Allison Williams: [00:02:36] So let me talk to you about the idea of creating a drip campaign for your clients. OK? Drip campaign for your clients. Now, when you hear Drip campaign, most people will think Drip campaign equals marketing. So to some degree, we are talking about marketing to our existing clients. Ok, lots of different ways that you can be effective at using this type of process in your law firm. Some of it can go to the way of marketing your law firm to your existing clients for new matters, for client referrals, etcetera. But I'm also talking about some of your basic communications.
Allison Williams: [00:03:15] So I want you to think about the trajectory of a case from beginning to the end of a case. Whether your cases take a year, two years, six months, three months doesn't really matter how long the case is. OK? There's probably a series of documented steps that you're aware of, from beginning to end of the case. That include things such as filing pleadings, receiving responsive pleadings, initiating some form of engagement with the court process or the administrative agency process or the Adverse Party. There is some form of transactional activity, whether that transaction is negotiation or advocacy, or explicating the details of your matter so that someone can ultimately decide upon your matter, whether it's an arbiter or a mediator or a judge or a trustee. And then there is some form of closing to the matter, and your client is going to experience that matter at different stages based on where he or she or they fall within the process. So some parts of a legal process are very client-dependent. You need the client's information, you need their availability, they have to be physically present. Other times you are doing a lot of things behind the scenes and that behind the scenes time you know that you're moving the matter forward. But oftentimes your client doesn't know unless he or she is calling and saying, Hey, lawyer, I need an update.
Allison Williams: [00:04:48] So I want you to think about the number of times where you have been busting your behind for a client, right? You get up early, you work late, you've had a lot of transactions back and forth. There are a lot of things going on in the, in the creation of the matter or the drafting of the documents or in the negotiation of the clauses, whatever you're doing. And then at some point, when that process starts to move its way through the beginning stages into the middle stages to the end of a case, you start to hear from your client and your client seems to have a detachment from how hard you're working. OK? Some of that can just be the jerk client, but there are many people that are not jerks. They're just overwhelmed and overwrought by their personal circumstances, and they don't know what they don't know, right? So if you don't tell them you're working hard, they don't know it. They just assume if I'm not hearing anything, nothing is happening. So I want you to think about all of those times where you have received some form of communication from your client that led you to the understanding that the client doesn't seem to get how hard you're working. The client doesn't seem to grasp how much is involved, and the client doesn't seem to appreciate that you are putting in a lot of effort on their, on their behalf in order to get to a good result.
Allison Williams: [00:06:08] This drip campaign that we're talking about to communicate with your client is an opportunity for you to eliminate that confusion and that question mark on the part of your client. So I want you to think about building in some workflows whereby every time something happens, you communicate to a software program that something has happened and the next communication needs to go out to your client. So let's think through what some of those communications might be. It might be high, we've just received our file pleading. The next step is that we're going to serve the adverse party and upon serving them, they will then have X number of days to respond. Ok, now part of your service may very well be to educate your client about that from the beginning, right? You might have a new client intake packet where they get all of that information and you expect that they're going to read it, but let's be real. People sign up for new things all the time and don't go home and start reading.
Allison Williams: [00:07:13] I remember I built my home during the pandemic, during the pandemic, right? So this is not the home in Charlotte that I was recently talking about in the episode, manifesting like a motherfucker. OK? This is actually my home in New Jersey, my, my first home. And when I built this home in the pandemic, I remember being overloaded by having everything be new. I remember I got stacks, upon stacks, upon stacks of documents and information from my contractor, from, from all of the people that were installing my appliances to people that were customizing different parts of the home for me and everything from my cabinets to the water heater and the way that functions. Oh, and there's here's a manual like, you know, that's like 15 pages long for how to operate the refrigerator and the ice cube maker on the on the refrigerator. And I didn't read any of that stuff. I'm going to be candid with you, right? But a lot of information, it was thrown at me all at once, and every person that was involved in the process was giving me what they felt I needed to know, right? They kind of summarize the big picture stuff. They said, Hey, this is how you turn it on, this is how you plug it in. Here's how to make sure you don't have any electrical issues, blah blah blah. And for anything else, here's the manual. So I want you to think about your communications process that we're talking about here as being for anything else, quote-unquote, right? So there's some things that you, as the lawyer or your paralegal or your legal assistant will want to directly communicate to a client. But then there are other things that can curate their experience so that they are reminded of things that they will need to know. So that they are told about next steps so that they are essentially put on a conveyor belt from the beginning of coming into your law firm to the end of working with your law firm.
Allison Williams: [00:09:09] And the more process, the more systems, the more structure you build into that process, the more confidence that you're going to instill in your client that they made the right choice in you because not only do you have the information, but you are sharing it with them, right? Rarely is there going to be a time where you're going to over-educate your clients. Now I do think that there are times where overwhelming someone with information is definitely the wrong way to go, and that typically is at the sales conversation part of the relationship, right? When a person first comes in and they are becoming a new client of your company and they're asking you questions and you are deluding them with all of the legal strategy, and tactics in the law, and the facts, and the evidence, and the rules, and all of that, they can't integrate that information no matter how intelligent they are, because they're overwhelmed with their own problem and they don't have the knowledge and wherewithal to do that. In fact, a lot of lawyers almost go into like law professor mode when they try to educate their non-lawyer clients about the legal ramifications of whatever is going on. And even though we do that from a place of service, we think that we are doing a good thing for them.
Allison Williams: [00:10:25] We oftentimes prohibit people from making decisions simply because we give them so much information on which to make decisions that they then become shut down. So I want you to think about that during the course of what could be six months, 12 months, a year and a half of their life dealing with this legal problem and the fact that it is their problem does not mean that because they've given it over to you to solve, that they have taken away any and all thoughts about the problem, right? We know clients live with the stress of having that problem not solved. So I want you to think about how you can start to infuse your client with some communications along the way and some things that you can build out for them or really just FYI, right? It can just be, every time we get a court notice and you know that there are certain court notices that they're going to receive throughout every type of case, you send it out to the client, attach it to an email that's going to already be built out in your workflow. That's going to tell them, here's this type of notice, this is what it means, I want you to look to this part of the notice where it says X, this is your next court date. And you can, you can even customize a workflow whereby you're going to add those specific activities directly into the email so that they don't just get a here's your court notice, please see attached. They get a description, right?
Allison Williams: [00:11:48] And for some people, this is, this is kind of like next level, right? For most people, building out the workflow is a big enough process that they don't necessarily go here yet. But for some people that are really tech savvy, one of the things that you can do to make this a really nice experience for your client is to record a video for them. Right? So you can have embedded into your workflows, email videos from either you as the lawyer or your paralegal or your collections agent, whoever that is, your office administrator, your finance person or your marketing assistant, whomever you want it to be, right? It doesn't have to be you. But someone saying you're giving out legal advice, obviously it needs to be a legal professional, needs to be an attorney, but it doesn't have to be depending on what the nature of the email is. So it could be a, you know, FYI, we just got a notice then, I wanted to send you this quick video to explain to you what this notice is, right? And if you get really, really clever with the way you do this, you could screen share. You could have a copy of the notice scanned and up and available to be seen on your screen. And you can either record a Loom video where you are having your face in the corner of the video together with the actual image of the notice. Or you could do it on Zoom right where you screen share in Zoom and have yourself visible, walking through what the notice says. But the whole idea is that you want to add in personal connection in a way that doesn't require personal activity. Ok. Personal connection without personal activity. Because if I prerecorded these videos and then every time we get something into the, into the office on behalf of the client, I now have something that I can give to the client. So they're getting a communication from me, but they're getting some form of communication that isn't a one-to-one, let me stop and have a direct communication with you.
Allison Williams: [00:13:42] Now you may still have clients, by the way, that will call anyway. They will call because they're confused, they will call because they're overwhelmed, but those people were likely to call you anyway. You will have other clients that are greatly appreciative of just getting a FYI communication, right? They don't need a phone call. They don't need to have an email. They don't need to have a long explanation beyond what you've already provided. And when you start communicating with people in this highly efficient but still personalized manner, you achieve three goals at once.
Allison Williams: [00:14:16] The first goal is you ensure that you are actually communicating with your client. The number one complaint that the public has about lawyers is lack of communication. OK? That's across all practice areas. When you start to see complaints come in from, from clients to the Office of Attorney Ethics, it is almost invariably the most popular one is lack of communication. Ok, so you you address that right off the bat.
Allison Williams: [00:14:40] The second thing that you achieve by this is, you create that personalized touch without you having to be everywhere all at once. This allows you to have more communication with a client without having to take extra time and without taking away your energy. Right? I just wrapped up one of the, one of my favorite things to do here at Law Firm Mentor is we have the Crushing Chaos Masterclass, which is an absolutely free week-long training that we provide to the legal community about how to create systems and law firms. And one of the reasons why we create systems, right? I review this at the very start of the program. One of the reasons why we create those systems is so that we can preserve our energy. But when we need to be at our best thinking at the sharpest, communicating at the greatest level, making sure that we are doing the things that people hire us for, which is to give them top-notch legal representation, and strategy, and skill, and integration of law and fact, right? All of that that we were trained to do as lawyers. We give that to the legal community when we have the best of us available. You don't have the best of you available when you are on the phone all day, every day, running from person to person and you're exhausted mentally or physically as a result of that. So we want to preserve your energy and this is a way to do that.
Allison Williams: [00:16:00] The third thing that is super important by virtue of doing this is that you can increase the number of touchpoints that you have with your client and you are giving them value that can be compensable. OK? So the fact that you have previously built out a workflow doesn't mean that you can't charge for the very substantive communication that you're going to give them in a particular communication. Now, before anybody says, Oh my God, that's a shortcut that feels like that's not ethical. I'm telling you that you are giving substantive legal advice to your client, you're you're giving them substantive legal value, you're allowed to charge for legal value. The fact that it is not hard for you to do that, or the fact that you have previously created something that now has to be customized to them does not take away the fact that its value. But if you have a concern about that, check with your Office of Attorney Ethics before you do anything that's being recommended because ultimately your license is yours to protect. But I throw it out there for your consideration because a lot of us like to give that high touchpoint service to our clients, but that limits the number of people we can help, and it limits the amount of communications that we can have. So this is a way to expand the pie of your available resources while still giving your client a great experience.
Allison Williams: [00:17:14] Now, I'm not suggesting that a drip campaign is going to be able to eliminate all customized communications because things happen in the course of a case, and obviously you have to pivot to be able to respond. But a lot of the mundane step-by-step FYI communications are really very critical for you to create in some form of automaticity. Typically, it's delegated to a paraprofessional, which is better than having it be done by you if it's not legal advice. But it still is not the same as having it run automatically, because then that person can also be preserved while you are doing other things.
Allison Williams: [00:17:49] Now, the last thing that I want to say about this, and I think it's a really important point, is that when you are thinking about creating automaticity in your communications, we've talked about doing it for some of the mundane. But there's also what I like to think about as building out a level of additional support for your clients that has nothing to do... I shouldn't say nothing but as little to do with the actual subject matter of your representation. Right? So you might start to think about ways that you can train people or provide additional resources on how to deal with the emotional toll of being involved in contested litigation or how to prepare yourself psychologically for reviewing the transactional document that's been created. Like, if you're an estate planning attorney, you can have educational videos built into a system for your client on, here's how you start to have some of those challenging conversations about end of life with your loved one. Or if you're a family law attorney, here's how you start making plans for how you're going to rebuild your friendship group. Now that your friends are all married couples and you and your spouse are separating and there could be some tension in having one or the other of you, but not both of you in that circle. Or if you're a real estate attorney, you could give some video trainings to your clients on OK, so now you have gotten to the finish line, you're about to close on your house, here are some things I want to tell you about managing your finances now that you're going to have this additional asset right? And you can have a co-presented training that you give with a financial planner about budgeting, and now you're going to have caring expenses on the home. And I want you to be thinking about how you're going to be able to afford that before you ultimately have to afford that, right? So there's lots of little ways that you can do this right? And for some of your practice areas, it lends itself to generating more business relatively easily.
Allison Williams: [00:19:51] So if you're an immigration attorney, you might consider having some video trainings or substantive communications going out to your clients talking about, now that you have your green card, here's the next step in the process to getting you to the point of being a naturalized citizen or now that you have your work visa, here are the things that you need to do in order to ensure that, when that you, before that visa expires, that you're doing everything to comply with the law so that if you want to come here and be a citizen, that we can help you do that. Right? So it becomes an additional service that you are providing, whether or not you choose to charge for some of this, ultimately something that you have to decide. But as you are building this out, what you are doing is you're giving extra value to the person. The person doesn't feel like, Great! I hired you for legal advice on X and I got only legal advice on X. You got life advice because the types of problems that we help people to solve almost invariably include ripple effects in other areas of their life. OK? And by the way, this is true even if you're helping them with something that's considered a lower-level problem. This is true if you're helping someone with a traffic ticket, right? You might say, OK, it's a traffic ticket here. Show up at traffic court. I'll go on, negotiate it down, you'll pay some fines, you'll leave. But if you were to build out additional communications to that person, OK, now that we've gotten that resolved, I want to give you some pointers on how you can ensure that you don't have points on your license in the future. Or here are some things that you might want to go ahead and put on your calendar to make sure that this can be expunged in the future.
Allison Williams: [00:21:27] You know, whatever it is that you do, I want you to be thinking about your communications with your client as a way of doing three things. One, helping them to feel so supported by the level of education, information, guidance, and support you're offering that you're offering something in excess of what is minimally required by your retainer agreement. OK? You should always be looking to overdeliver for the value you're charging a client. Second, think about it as a way to generate more work from the existing client, right? If the client is triggered to ask you questions or call to schedule appointments because you need to talk through certain things, depending on the type of matter that you have and your fee structure. You may be able to generate additional work and additional revenue off of that, right? So you have a billable hour firm, then every time you invite your client to contact you to deal with substance in the matter, you're going to be able to generate more revenue. If it is a flat fee matter, then all of the communications that you devise for them are going to limit the number of times that you personally have to be on the phone with them, decreasing your net return off of the fees that you charged in that flat fee model. If you have a subscription, the more education and information and guidance that you customize and put into automation for your client, the less they're going to have to call you and thereby reducing your return on the subscription fee that you charge. And similarly, if your contingency practice, the more communications you give to your client, the less that they're going to be able to, the less they're going to need to call you for information themselves, which means your time on desk is going to go down because you'll be able to do more of that substantive legal work that doesn't involve client communications. So this is an opportunity for you to create some automaticity in your communications to give your client a better experience, to give your client more information, more guidance, more support through the process so that they become your raving fans and to ultimately not need you in the same way. So that when you are having those one-to-one communications with them, they're getting the value of that and they're getting something that is even a higher level touchpoint than what they already have from you. Ok?
Allison Williams: [00:23:43] All right, everyone. We have talked today about creating automaticity in your communications, crushing the chaos in your client communications. Now, if this is something that you personally need help with, I want to invite you to reach out to us here at Law Firm Mentor. You can always visit us on the web at LawFirmMentor.net and schedule a growth strategy call where we can talk to you about how you can up-level your communications, improving your client experience, as well as the referrals that come in from that. I'm Allison Williams Law Firm Mentor, and I'll see you on the next episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast.
Allison Williams: [00:24:32] Thank you for tuning in to The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor Podcast to learn more about today's guest and take advantage of the resources mentioned. Check out our show notes. And if you own a solo or small law firm and are looking for guidance, advice or simply support on your journey to create a law firm that runs without you. Join us in the Law Firm Mentor Movement free Facebook Group. There, you can access our free trainings on improving collections and law firms, meeting billable hours and join the movement of thousands of law firm owners across the country who want to crush chaos in their law firms and make more money. I'm Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. Have a great day!
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law.
Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.
In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers. She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money. Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications and money management in law firms.
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00: 21: 27 (31 Seconds)
You know, whatever it is that you do, I want you to be thinking about your communications with your client as a way of doing three things. One, helping them to feel so supported by the level of education, information, guidance, and support you're offering that you're offering something in excess of what is minimally required by your retainer agreement. OK? You should always be looking to overdeliver for the value you're charging a client. Second, think about it as a way to generate more work from the existing client, right?