I suppose that the initial reaction of a law firm client to the question of how they can be a great client may be, “Why should I care?” I certainly met my fair share of clients who could not possibly have cared less about whether their lawyer thought that they were a great client.
So let’s address that question first. Why should a client care about what their law firm thinks about them? Here are a few reasons:
- My cell phone rings. It is 8 pm on a Friday and I am at the gym. The display says that it is one of my great clients. I take the call. I find a quiet part of the gym to discuss the issue. I promise the client that I will wake up early the next morning and take care of whatever needs doing and have it on his desk by 9 am on Saturday. And I do.
- One of my great clients is sued. He is stressed about it. He needs to see a good litigator. All the litigators are swamped. Nobody wants to meet him for a few days. I spend some political capital and he sees our best litigator that afternoon.
- A great client has a valued employee whose son was just arrested for doing something stupid. He needs a criminal lawyer and asks his employer for help. I spend time tracking down a good criminal lawyer for him. No charge, of course. The employee is grateful to his employer.
- My great client is going to do a super small deal. The type of deal that you might normally delegate to someone very junior and hope that it does not get screwed up too badly. The deal may be small, but it is important to the client. I do it myself.
- A great client has a problem with the fees charged by someone in my firm. (This is a rare occurrence, or they would not be a great client.) I look into it and make sure that the client is happy.
- Someone in my firm screws something up. The client knows that I will do whatever is necessary to fix it.
- When someone in my firm tries to assign our really not that good junior to my great client’s file, I kibosh the idea, and quickly.
- If a major problem comes up and Heaven and Earth have to be moved in order to prevent a catastrophe, I make sure that the only question is, “how far do we have to move them?”
So, here is what makes a great client:
- They pay my bill within 30 days every single time. I list that first for a reason. When I was a newbie, a senior partner once told me that I should be personally offended if a client does not pay my bill promptly. It is disrespectful. If I want disrespect I can speak to a teenager.
- They patiently provide me all of the information and documentation that I need to get the job done, and they do it quickly.
- When things go wrong, we work together as a team to fix the problem. There is no blaming, pointing fingers, or threatening.
- They never give me false deadlines. They work with me to agree on a reasonable deadline.
- They treat everyone at my firm with respect.
- Not every single matter that they have is a big rush.
- As much as I am part of their team, they are also part of my team. I once had opposing counsel pushing for me to give them a ridiculous legal opinion just because their client had the leverage to try to bully me into doing it. I explained it to my client who very much wanted the deal to go through and whose financial survival may have been at risk if it did not. He called the other side and told them that he would not ask me to provide the opinion and that the deal was off if they insisted on it.
Great relationships go both ways. There are a few clients out there who get that. When you find one, do whatever it takes to hold onto them.