Valuable practices in professional services

by Jim Durham /

When you hire an accountant, a landscaper, or a financial planner to do work for you, what would your reaction be if they did not return your phone calls promptly or failed to ask you important questions about what you expect and what you want to accomplish? What if there were no personal connection and they did not seem the least bit interested in you personally?

What if they did not get things done when they said they would, and they sent you a bill for more than you expected to pay? What if they were working on an hourly rate basis, but seemed to have no concern at all for efficiency and had no creative strategies to minimize the time needed for the project?

For many lawyers, this list of behaviors is only modestly troubling. For clients, however, these behaviors characterize ordinary lawyers, not great ones.

We may have come to expect these less than impressive behaviors from many of the people we hire, but that does not justify a belief that these behaviors are acceptable.

Here are two valuable practices professional service providers can exercise:

1. Service Over Intellect

Service cannot take a back seat to brains in the quest to be an outstanding lawyer. While being smart is essential, if it were sufficient for greatness, almost every lawyer would be an incredible success. Giving clients true value and an incredible experience is what being great is all about.

Some of my consultant friends have suggested that if I achieve the goal of writing the definitive practical book on client service for lawyers, it might put them out of business. If we can get lawyers to appreciate that it is more important to care about clients than it is to add an extra billable hour to their day, then we might actually be able to eliminate lawyer jokes in our lifetime.

If individual lawyers can take note of their attitudes and behaviors, then consultants can turn their attention to helping firms develop better internal support and mentoring programs; implement better client communication systems; create operational and compensation systems that promote client service; and encourage better personal growth and creativity for lawyers and staff.

2. Stop Thinking Like a Lawyer

If you want to be a great lawyer (or accountant, or consultant…), then you must think like clients think. You must put yourself in the shoes of a client and ask: What would I want to have happen right now? What would I want this lawyer to ask me if I were the client? What information would I want from the lawyer so I could feel comfortable about having them represent me? What demeanors and attitudes is he or she conveying to give me confidence that I have the right lawyer working for me? What feedback would I want the lawyer to seek from me? How would I like the work to be coordinated and managed? What would I want this lawyer to know about my business?

These are the things we need to start thinking about if we want to be great lawyers. Our success as lawyers is determined in equal parts by what we do and how we do it.

Learn why authenticity is the key to successful lawyers.