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Tips on Keeping Clients (Very) Happy

Vivia Chen

March 10, 2013

© jagodka - Fotolia.com-1The perennial question on everyone's lips: How to get and keep clients? We've heard from plenty of business development experts over the years, but not nearly enough from partners at major firms.

Luckily, Michael McDonald, a partner at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton's London office, is filling that gap. RollOnFriday got its claws on McDonald's memo, "How to Superplease Clients," which was sent out to the firm's trainees and associates. The memo lists what they can do to keep external and "internal" clients (e.g., partners) happy. (We asked Cleary for comment, but have not heard back.)

Let me just say, it is quite amusing. Sometimes, McDonald seems so solicitious of clients' needs that he sounds like he's catering to prized poodles. At the same time, though, he's also being very comprehensive—offering about 50 tips on client relations. (RollOnFriday suggests that you "stick [the list] on your fridge.")

McDonald starts off on a somewhat apologetic note, noting that some might find his advice "overly North American and dated." Despite the horror of being one of those eager-to-please Yanks, McDonald says it's time to acknowledge that client are "demanding" these days—"wherever they are located."

Indeed, McDonald fits nicely within the eager-beaver lawyer mode. He tells young lawyers to:

    -  "Always exceed client expectations."

    -  "Set realistic deadlines and always exceed them."

    -  "Come in under budget."

In other words, he's advocating that lawyers overdeliver. Probably not realistic for associates who are already working under tremendous time pressures, though I get his drift.

But McDonald also seems to suggest  that lawyers should go to extremes to satisfy the business and personal needs of clients:

    - "Remember birthdays/ make it personal!"

    - "Assist with personal legal needs."

    - "Adjust holiday plans if essential to the client."

    - "Be attentive to their personal needs if they are under stress." (RollOnFriday says it's "unclear if this extends to a back rub, a dance, or dressing them up as a baby and feeding them rusks.")

    - "Make them look good." (Is that a derivation of the old Vidal Sassoon ad: "If you don't look good, we don't look good"?)

We can poke fun at McDonald's seemingly over-the-top advice on making clients happy, but he's probably on the right track. Probably lots of successful lawyers do all these little personal things, but just don't set them to paper. In a way, I guess McDonald is doing a public service by being so up-front about his methods.

What do you think—is this just old-fashioned suck-up, or is he going to the extreme?

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email chief blogger Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. 

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Lawyers are subject to the same standards as any business and the same things are true. Get results, keep them informed, create realistic expectations. Don't promise the moon if you can't deliver. However, those personal touches are nice too and help make clients feel as though you actually care about them.

As a client, I would decline the back rub, but sending a generic birthday card (nothing too personal) is a nice touch. Adjusting holiday plans to suit the clien is part of the reason that people leave private practice. I think that the bigger issue is maintaining open communication with the client to manage their expectations. Adjustments should be made only when absolutely necessary.

Having been on the client end of this overly-attentive arrangement, I think it's better to keep the relationship about business and non-personal.

I think it is good customer service and smart business practice. Between the lawyer and his secretary, the client should always expect to receive this kind of personalized service.

I think it depends on the client. Corporate managers feel differently, and thus need different support, than grievously injured plaintiffs do.

Lawyers simply need to stop and ask themselves - frequently, and client by client - what would make the client feel trusting and appreciative. And waste no time doing it.

As a lawyer for 20 years and then a client for almost that long, I have to applaud this fellow for even giving thought to the concept of client satisfaction. The most important advice is that the lawyer's success is tied to the client's success. Anyone interested in a more intensive look at these issues should check out ClientConsultLLC.com. BTW, don't remember my birthday; that's sucking up.

This is not "the extreme" - just the basics. Clients expect it - if they don't get it from you, they can and will get it from someone else.

While one can crack jokes about some the excerpts posted here, I'd say McDonald is largely on track with mostly sensible suggestions.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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