Sometimes there are instances when we need to understand the authority we yield in our business as it relates to clients. But how do we use those communication strategies to manage your clients more effectively?
I'm going to share the top three ways that a proactive attorney can use communication and effectively manage communication in order to get to a better attorney-client relationship.
In this episode we discuss:
- How to improve the attorney-client relationship
- Three Key strategies for how to effectively manage your client communications.
- How you can elevate your status by being unavailable.
- The importance of communicating that you are in high demand.
- Speaking the language that reflects of being a high-status person.
Allison Williams: [00:00:05] Hi, everybody. It's Allison Williams here, your host of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys. We help you to grow your revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money.
Allison Williams: [00:00:36] This week we're going to talk about how to use your communication strategies to manage your clients more effectively. Now we talk about the business of law here at Law Firm Mentor, and of course, that's what this podcast is dedicated to. But periodically I will have my clients ask me questions about how to deal with very specific issues that they have with their clients. Sometimes it comes up in the context of a coaching call, or it comes up in our Facebook group community or on our branded app. The Law Firm Mentor now has our own branded application, where all of our clients receive their coaching and their different coaching modalities and their information documents, things like that.
Allison Williams: [00:01:22] But it comes up, right periodically. And since I had before I became a business coach and even before I started a law firm, I had a pretty notorious, we'll call it, reputation in our legal community because I had a statewide reputation for handling cases all over the state dedicated to a very challenging area of the law, which was child abuse and neglect, parental representation. And one of the things that people learned about me that they were surprised by was the fact that I handled this practice area, not through the public defender's office. I was never compensated by the state to take on parental defense. I was always privately retained and people always ask the question, Where do you find people who have the money? And I said, Well, first of all, all of us have the money. We just aren't aware of the fact that we have the money. So if someone wants something bad enough, they will find the money. I've had clients sell cars to have me represent them. I've had them reconnect with estranged relatives. If your child is on the line and never seeing your child again is the risk that you bear. Those are some pretty draconian circumstances. People will summon up what they need to in order to get the money. But even aside from that, the fact that I chose this practice area, which isn't something that is a high status, highly regarded area of the law, people make a lot of negative assumptions about those accused of child abuse, no matter how absurd the accusations are, no matter how statistically unlikely they are, and no matter the fact that they are not actually culpable, there's a lot of negative press that goes with this practice area because who would ever be in support of someone who can harm a child? Right.
Allison Williams: [00:03:07] But because of that practice area and because my clients oftentimes were doing things like having to sell their property or having to work an extra job just to get the minimum retainer together. For me, I had to learn how to manage, not just getting paid, but I also had to learn how to, how to manage the people end of my practice in a way that expressed that I was caring and concerned for my client's well-being, but at the same time got me to the result that I needed to as quickly as possible so that my client's retainer could span out as much as it needed to. So I really spent a lot of time, you know, I have an undergraduate degree and a master's degree in communications. So I've spent a lot of time thinking about not just what to say and how to say it, but the entirety of the communication dynamic, right? So everything from the medium of communication to the nonverbal cues of communication to the interference with communication, and having studied that, actually having done quite a bit of research on it and of course utilizing that when I became an attorney, I have a lot more invested in the art of communication as a tool to get to a better communication dynamic and a better attorney-client relationship than a lot of attorneys do. Right.
Allison Williams: [00:04:28] I think we all want that result, but don't necessarily have the academics behind it. We have our own personal experiences. We have things we've kind of picked up lawyering over the years. But this is really something that was an art and a science that I was dedicated to. So I have spent quite a bit of time teaching and training other lawyers on how to deal with clients, not just from a perspective of getting them to not be so challenging to work with. Right, but also learning how to improve the attorney-client relationship so that you can improve all things associated with that relationship in your business, including your collections, right? Clients like you, clients respect to you, clients having a good relationship with you yields a higher collection rate. Clients like you, clients respect you, Clients have a good relationship with you. Yields better marketing, it yields more Google reviews, it yields more referrals. Right? So there's there's a value to mastering this that goes straight to the heart of business of law. Not just being a better attorney, but being a better business person through managing your greatest asset, which is your relationship with your clients.
Allison Williams: [00:05:46] So very recently I put together a training for my own law firm. I train my own associates. We're now a team of nine attorneys, and I train my own associates on these strategies as well. And I'm going to share with you what I consider to be kind of the top three ways that a proactive attorney can use communication and effectively manage communication in order to get to a better attorney-client relationship.
Allison Williams: [00:06:15] Now, the better attorney-client relationship is going to yield all those positive effects I mentioned earlier. But right now, I really want to focus on the what, not the outcome. Right? So the outcome is the better relationship. And for you, that better relationship could be more money, it could be better marketing. Think about it from the perspective that matters most to you in your law firm. Think about the problem that you would want to solve by having a better attorney-client relationship in your law firm. But we're going to talk about three key strategies. This comes out of a training that, again, I delivered to my, my attorneys here at Williams Law Group. And one of the things that I want to impress upon you is that this is by no means an exhaustive list. These are the top three. These are the three that we spent the most time on. But there were many, many, many more communication strategies. And if you guys like this and you get value out of today's episode, then you can always shoot me a message on social media. You guys know where to find me. I'm at Law Firm Mentor on all the platforms, on Facebook, on Instagram, LinkedIn. We have a page, we now have a tik tok. We're kind of we're all over the place, right? So find us all over the place, wherever you like to consume your social media content, and just send me a message and say, Hey, I'd love to learn more about this than we will do more episodes on more of these strategies of communication.
Allison Williams: [00:07:39] Okay, but these are the top three. So the first one is that you need to elevate your status by being unavailable. Now, I talk about this particular strategy a lot. It has come up in our collections training. When we talk about how to collect more money from your clients, it comes up in our, our ideal client avatar worksheet, right? So when people ultimately gather information from us and they're looking for improving the client that they have and improving the types of clients that they attract, that happens through our ideal client avatar worksheet. This also comes up there, but it really comes up probably most when we talk about both intake and communication strategies in a law firm. So when I say be unavailable, what I'm talking about is not being unavailable to service your client. So do not interpret this to mean that when I say be unavailable, that means take someone's money, offer them a service, and the only time they see you is at court and when it's time to pay the bill. I am not advocating that at all. But when I say be unavailable, what I mean is that you have to shift into being a professional, right? And the professional leads the relationship as to how the public will deal with that professional. Right. You do have authority and autonomy over how you will structure that.
Allison Williams: [00:09:17] And it's important that you structure it. It's important that there are times when even if you are sitting in your office playing, playing video games, and eating bonbons, that you are not available to your clients because what you are doing by being unavailable is you are elevating your status. And the way that I like to characterize this to attorneys when I teach this is that the lawyer who is available to take every phone call is not perceived to be as good an attorney as the lawyer who is only periodically available. Now, periodically available doesn't mean that you frustrate your client by taking every fourth phone call, right? The goal is not to shove off your clients. It is to manage your client communications. The way that you manage it comes through a variety of different strategies that we've talked about before, including things like having a written communications policy so that your clients know when they sign up, how to reach you, when to reach you, when to expect to hear back from you. But one of the things that is the most frustrating is when people just reach out and leave a message at a law firm and expect that as soon as they have an urge to speak to you, that you will be available and that, if not available immediately, that you will urgently respond to whatever query they have, because the reality is they have urgency around their problem because they're the only problem that they're dealing with. You have 30, 40, 50, 100 hundred,200 hundred, 500 hundred problems that you are dealing with and you are ranking their problem somewhere in the urgency list. Right. So some things might be urgent, some things not.
Allison Williams: [00:11:02] It's important that your client not get the feeling that their problem does not matter to you. So it's important that you proactively manage your availability. But proactively managing your availability typically means something along the lines of giving a person a written and verbal reminder of when they can expect to hear from you and how best to do that. So that can be when they call the office, someone gets on the phone with them and schedules them for an appointment to speak with you. Or that can be you have a very detailed scheduler, not just schedule appointment, but if you have an ongoing case and you have a problem, use this scheduler to schedule a 15,30, or 60 minute appointment. Or it could be email this database or use your client portal to communicate with the office what the nature of your problem is. And within 24 hours, someone will reach out and either speak with you about your problem or schedule you to speak with the attorney about your problem if it requires legal advice. Right.
Allison Williams: [00:12:07] But the whole idea is that you are not sitting around waiting to take phone calls and you convey that to your clients. And I have no problem actually saying to my clients, I've used this very effectively and gotten a lot of referrals out of it, frankly. When I've said to my clients, Listen, would you really want me if I had nothing better to do than to sit in my office and take your phone call? Think about that. And it really does shift their awareness to the idea that my lawyer is not just valuable because they are working hard for me. They're valuable because they work hard for a living. Right? They are servicing very indepth, very challenging, very emotionally draining problems. And the more significant that person's problem is, you can very easily say to them, I want you to magnify, multiply your problem times 40, you can barely deal with your problem and you are one person. I want you to think about me dealing with not only your problem, but 40 others of your problem. And then I want you to think about how much time and energy and effort it takes me to deal with your problems. Multiply that times 40. And appreciate that if I'm not available, it's not because I'm at the beach. It's because I am working just as hard for someone else as I work for you. Right.
Allison Williams: [00:13:25] Now, you could very well be at the beach. You could have a lifestyle law firm where you only take ten clients and the amount of work that you do is 15 hours a week because that's what you've decided, right? But either way, the messaging to your client has to be that you are of such status, right? That again, it's about this is about elevating your status. You are of such status that this person is one of the many people that draws upon your exceptional expertize in order to get to a good result. And you want them to have the level of respect for that as ultimately they have for the value you bring to their file. Okay.
Allison Williams: [00:14:04] Strategy number two, this was another one that we spent quite a bit of time talking about when I gave this training last. It is that you must communicate that you are in high demand. One of the things that saddens me the most that I see lawyers talking about online is that when they feel overwhelmed with the volume of work they have, their instinct is to stop taking new cases for a while or to put off things for a while so they can get through the work. It's never, it's never, almost never that they should go hire someone. And the reality is, if you have too much work and you monetize that work in the right way, you can instantaneously make more and work less just by hiring someone. Right. And I'm talking about not even hiring someone to the point of perfection. I'm talking about hiring someone that has the requisite volume of skill that the amount that they can take off your plate, even when added to the amount of management that they require, is going to make you collectively more than if you kept that work for yourself because you can only work so many hours, right? You are in owning a law firm. You essentially own a body shop, right? You're stacking the bodies. So the more you stack the bodies, the more money is available from those bodies. And I know a lot of lawyers don't understand pricing strategies, don't understand how to make every hire a profitable hire. And so they're afraid that when they had when they hire someone, they're going to run out of money to pay them because they're going to be hiring for convenience rather than hiring for profit. And that is a very realistic truth. You must get to the point where you are hiring for a profit, not just hiring because it feels good, but if you structure it in the right way and this is literally a 15-minute conversation, I can't tell you the number of times I've had coaching conversations with clients where what comes up is I feel overwhelmed. I'm going through marital problems with my partner. I'm having some issues with my child, I'm having some issues with my parents. So I just have to kind of sit still and catch my bearing and it's like, no, no, no. What you needed to have done whenever this problem arose that I'm just now hearing about what you needed to have done was get this work off of your plate in a way that makes you more money so that you cannot just have the time for your family, your spouse, your child, your parents, whomever it is. But you can contemporaneously have enough money that you are able to pay yourself and you are able to sustain your business. But what tends to happen is lawyers instinctually retract when they have too much, and then because they are retracting the work that they are doing, they are also retracting the profits, they're also retracting the revenue, and then their business starts to recoil around them. They don't have enough and they ultimately end up feeling overwhelmed. And the way out of that is in the opposite direction. It's not retracting, it's growing. A separate little tangent there just had to get that out.
Allison Williams: [00:17:09] But what we're talking about right now is communicating that you're in high demand and this is really about setting a tone with your client that you are not just available, but you are available in limited quantities. Nothing drives up supply. Pardon me, nothing drives up demand for something that is in available in the marketplace, like saying it has a limited supply. Right. We hear this all the time while supplies last, or last opportunity, or this this option is going away in X number of days. Right. As soon as you say that, you're, you're embedding a psychological Q that basically triggers the feeling of lack. Right. I'm going to miss out on this, I'm going to lose something, I'm going to lack something if I don't take advantage of this now. Well, it's the same general premise when you start talking to your client about the fact that you have a multitude of clients. But what a lot of lawyers do is they talk about it from a defensive posture. So it sounds like, listen, client, you're not the only kid on the block here. I've got plenty of clients and I've got a lot of work to do. So you're not the most important person in my life and you're not the most important thing I've got to deal with. And if somebody were to say that to you, just imagine how shitty you would feel, right? So you don't want to communicate to your client. Hey, client, you're so unimportant because I've got so many other clients to serve, If I don't serve you, I'll just serve someone else so you go sit and wait. Nobody wants to hear that and frankly, that doesn't show your client the level of respect that they're owed by the fact that they chose you when they could have chosen any number of other people. What you really want to convey is that you have a process for helping them, because going back to our very first point, right, you have an elevated status. Your elevated status, which is point number one, coincides with your being in high demand, which is point number two. And being in high demand means that you have a very structured way of dealing with people so that you are exceptionally dedicated to getting them the best possible outcome. And the way that you do that is by not taking phone calls middle of the day, right? It's not stopping what you're doing when you're working on something, but creating laser focus associated with it. It's making sure that whomever you are working on has your undivided attention. That's why I'm a big proponent of having an open floor policy, not an open door policy. Right. People in my law firm know you don't just walk up and invite yourself into my office, right? That's not how we roll here. If you need me, message me. If it's urgent, I will make myself available. It's rare that something becomes urgent. Or if it is urgent, it's rare that I'm involved in it. But assume for the moment that you need me.
Allison Williams: [00:20:11] Now there are ways to get a hold of me now. Much more often than not, you need me in reasonable proximity. So reasonable proximity means sometimes over the next week I need to schedule an appointment. So where there are ways of doing that right. And once they schedule that appointment, they're the only ones that have that time. They are the only person that is allowed to have that time. That means they are the only person that I am listening to, that I am talking to, that I'm typing with. I don't care what the medium is. I don't care if it's an office appointment, a phone call, a zoom meeting. All of the other browsers are closed. The door is closed, right? You get me and only me. And I give myself to no one else when I'm dealing with you. Because I am in high demand, which means when I am not working with you, I am working with someone or something else of great value to me. So that means you are entitled to an exquisite experience of me when you have me. That exquisite experience means I'm paying attention, I'm taking notes, I'm analyzing, we're co-creating, we're efficiently moving through an agenda so that I can give you the best possible outcome. And I don't care if that is me to a client, me to an employee, me to a vendor. Whoever has me, they have me because they're not going to have unlimited access to me. They're not going to get me like Burger King. Right. You can't have it, you're away. That's not how this works. And when you are in high demand, you have the ability to take that position without fear that taking that position is going to run off the person who wants access to you. But again, this strategy is very much contingent upon and interplays with strategy number one, which is about being a high-status person. So you have to learn how to speak the language of being a high-status person while also speaking the language of being in high demand.
Allison Williams: [00:22:14] All right. Third and final strategy that we're going to talk about, which is safety in numbers. So this one is a really important one because I think a lot of times and this is really I want to cue you in. If you're listening to this episode, I want to cue you in to really focusing on the solo experience. Right? So for those of you that have small law firms, you have big teams, this applies to you as well. You can absolutely use this, you should use it. But this is particularly for my solo attorneys, because I remember when I first owned a law firm.
Allison Williams: [00:22:49] Well, first of all, let's take it even a step back from that. I had a lot of resistance to going out on my own, even though I knew I could support myself. Those of you that know my story, you know, my background is that even though I started with $0, I had no savings to put into my law firm. I had 100% certainty that my clients were going to come with me because I was the only child abuse and neglect attorney in my law firm. And about 40 out of the 48 clients I was servicing at that time were child abuse and neglect cases. So my clients couldn't have stayed behind if they wanted to because there was no one at the law firm where I worked who could do that work. It's not to say that the client didn't still have the choice. The client could have chosen to go somewhere else, but my clients were happy with me, right? So I knew that they were going to come with me and I knew I would generate more clients. In fact, unlike a lot of my clients, my law firm clients who I have the utmost respect and regard for because they took that plunge. And a lot of you. Right, you take that plunge when you're at the I don't know where I'm going to get clients from state. I was past that state by the time I had the courage to go open my own law firm. But I knew that I was going to generate money and I had a $500,000 book of business when I ultimately took the plunge. So I knew I could support myself. But I remember this, this resistance around becoming solo because I wasn't so much enamored with big law anymore. I'd kind of gone through the phase of realizing that big law attorneys are oftentimes put on a pedestal that is not deserved. It is deserved by perception. There are some exceptional big law attorneys, but there are also some mediocre ones. Right. And I knew that I could argue circles around many of my big law attorney colleagues. And so I had gotten over that, that status issue. But I still very much associated a solo practice with lower status. Right. You're over there by yourself. You couldn't get a large firm to hire you. You couldn't get a midsize firm to hire you. You couldn't get other people to want to work with you. You weren't generating enough clients to have a big team. Right? All of those thoughts that are driven by some of the marketing, frankly, that's done in big law, even though more than half of the attorneys that practice law in our country are in solo or small law firms. Right. So it's not like the vast majority of lawyers are big law attorneys, but there's an elitism associated with that because big law makes itself elite by its marketing. And I just had this negative view about being a solo attorney.
Allison Williams: [00:25:29] So when I went out on my own, I had to make sure that I had a big enough reputation. That's part of the reason why I was very resistant to going out on my own, even though when I was fired from my second law firm. Second law firm I work for, I've told that story before. I won't bore you guys again with it. But you know, when I was fired from that law firm, a whole lot of people said, Well, girl, you ought to just go out on your own. And about that time, I had about a $250,000 book of business, so I was reasonably comfortable that I'd be able to support myself. I just didn't think I could handle the overwhelm of all of the activity, the minutia, the business side of law. Not to mention I also had this ignorant hang-up that I thought less of solo and small law firm attorneys. So when I ultimately did make the Make the Leap, by that time I had a big enough reputation that I figured even if I look like a less than attorney, because I have a solo and small law firm practice, anyone that would really be encountering me at this point, because even though I was handling family law cases, half of it was child, child abuse and neglect. And I had kind of cornered the market, if you will, in that practice area. I figured I've got enough ego clout in that practice area that people won't look down on me for being a solo attorney. Very, very ignorant, far too much thought about what other people are thinking. That's a whole other episode for a different day. But I talked about my, my reputation as kind of the pink elephant in the room in the same way the safety and numbers ideology is really important for lawyers to grasp upon. So when you are a solo lawyer talking about we, us, our, historically the, the firm does X, all of that creates an illusion around your firm, right? Even when you start looking at law firm pictures, a lot of law firms will only picture the attorneys, and it may be one or two attorneys. But I remember at one point I decided that I was, I was featured in a magazine. I wanted to have the entire firm pictured and not just all of the attorneys. I wanted the entire law firm because 20 people in a picture is more powerful, impactful than six people in a picture. Right? At that time, that was the composition of firm. We had 20 employees in the aggregate and we had six attorneys, and I said I would rather see an image of 20 that looks more powerful than an image of six, and it certainly looks more powerful than one person on their own.
Allison Williams: [00:28:08] So I very much taught my attorneys and I still do, that they have to think about the numbers of what they are referencing, right? They have to talk about the law firm in a way that connotes a power. And a power conveyed through numbers is often in the we, in the hour, in the firm rather than me, I, the individual. We, our the firm is bigger than me, I the individual. And part of this, you may say, well, how does that really work? When I have a client, they're working with me. They know that it's me and they occasionally deal with my part-time secretary. But I'm the only person here. You still act as if, which that's a whole separate strategy. But it kind of relates to this one in safety in numbers, which is you're going to be speaking about your firm in a way that connotes more power, even if your clients are very palpably aware of the fact that it's you and a part-time secretary. Because when you start talking about the brand, the firm, the entity, the process, the ideology, right? It's bigger than you. What you're creating by talking about numbers and creating safety in numbers is you are getting people to rely upon a collective of knowledge and information and experience, even though it may be conveyed through one person. And that is so important that you as the owner do. But not only that, your other team members need to do this as well, right? Because when clients hear that, what they hear is that they can anchor themselves to the collective of experience, the bigger than you of your law firm.
Allison Williams: [00:30:01] When you talk about you, the individual, even if you as an individual have a high-status position. Right. You could have gone out similar to me after you had a big reputation in the law. Right? Doesn't matter if you are first-year stepping out, never worked for anyone owning your own law firm or you've been at this for 20 years and are breaking off from a well-established firm with multiple partners. And it's just going to be you, however you get to where you are. The important thing. To communicate is that there is a collective, a mass, a body that has knowledge, experience, values, structure, systems that your client can rely upon. And by virtue of crafting your message in that way, you actually strengthen what they can tether themselves to when they are doubtful, when they are uncertain, when they are questioning, ultimately, should I believe this person, follow this person, etc. You are essentially making yourself into a leader of a collective rather than an isolated individual standing on your own.
Allison Williams: [00:31:07] Now, this is how you manage your attorney-client relationship, right? You go through the process of elevating your status by being unavailable. You make sure that your clients know that you are in high demand and you communicate about the entity by connoting safety in numbers. All right, everyone, I'm Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. You have been listening to The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. I will see you on our next episode.
Allison Williams: [00:31:43] Thank you for tuning in to the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. To learn more about today's show and take advantage of the resources mentioned, check out our show notes. And if you enjoy today's episode, take a moment to follow the podcast wherever you get your podcast and leave us a rating and review. This helps us to reach even more law firm owners from around the country who want to crush chaos in business and make more money. I'm Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor, everyone. Have a great day.
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is the 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 by 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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My favorite excerpt from the episode:
TIME: 00:15:24 (29 Seconds)
And I know a lot of lawyers don't understand pricing strategies, don't understand how to make every hire a profitable hire. And so they're afraid that when they had when they hire someone, they're going to run out of money to pay them because they're going to be hiring for convenience rather than hiring for profit. And that is a very realistic truth. You must get to the point where you are hiring for a profit, not just hiring because it feels good, but if you structure it in the right way and this is literally a 15-minute conversation.