Thursday, July 12, 2012

Where Everyone Knows Your Name. Can Cheers Make Your Law Firm Better?

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

During a recent court appearance, I was complaining to a fellow attorney about the many walk-ins we had at our office. Each week I  would find a waiting room full of unscheduled visitors."Why can't these people make a simple appointment? I can't get my work done." I mused.  My fellow barrister looked at me with a wince.  "Too many clients? What are you a jackass? Most attorneys would kill to have that problem."  Both of us graduated law school about the same time and we worked in similar law practices. The difference was he had trouble getting clients.  Clients that did use his services rarely referred their friends.  He wanted to know the secret of our success.  "Sam Malone",  I answered.

New York Nights
Let me elaborate.  One of my favorite television shows from the 80s has to be Cheers.  As most know, the sitcom focused on the antics of the patrons of a local Boston watering hole.  It was a local pub where everyone knew your name and you could take a break from all of life's worries. The bar provided an atmosphere where customers felt they were part of a family.  It wasn't just a bar.  It was a home away from home.  As a college student, I made a few extra bucks working as a DJ and occasional bartender at a place called Iguana Wanas in New York. The bar's manager followed the business model of Cheers. Although it was a dive, the place was packed every night.  It was so successful that the owners were able to add to their empire.  They began adding new bars to the area.  I would sling suds or play music at the Great American Pub, Hula Hanks, the New York Saloon, the Thirsty Turtle, and the Black Bear Saloon.  Despite the various names, the business model at all the bars remained the same.  Show the patrons that you appreciate their business and they will return with friends. Bartenders mixed favorite drinks and gave out a few complimentary cocktails. From Frank Sinatra to Vanilla Ice, the manager made sure I mixed in several favorite fun songs that everyone could relate to.  If I knew your name and favorite song, you received a "shout out".  So what does this have to do with your law practice?

While I am not suggesting you give out free drinks to your clientele, there are lessons to be learned from the Cheers model. Here are a few suggestions we have incorporated into our own law practice:



1.  Norm!  
I encourage our support staff to do everything possible
to make a client feel welcome.  While they do not shout out "Norm!", I do expect our staff members to greet clients when they walk in the door.  "Good afternoon Mr. Johnson, Attorney Baron will be right with you" is usually the standard.  I encourage my staff to offer the client a beverage.   Our firm even added a cappuccino maker for our clients.  You would be surprised to see how far an offer of cappuccino goes. (Freakin classy, right?)  Because we offer Polish speaking services, clients are also offered the latest magazines in Polish or English. (Keep your magazines current, no one wants to read a People magazine article from 1986 about Corey Feldman.) 

2.  Happy Birthday Cliff!  
We like to send our clients Holiday and birthday cards. While this can be time consuming, it keeps you in the client's thoughts.  In my opinion, you can't beat word of mouth advertising.   A happy client is more likely to refer you to a friend.  You may also want to prepare an informative firm newsletter.  If the client's matter requires a waiting period (for example a personal injury matter or a divorce case) we will contact them during this period to insure that they have no additional questions.  Our firm even maintains a Facebook presence where we provide legal news and law firm updates.  Very simple to do and it costs nothing.  I have found great success in my personal Facebook updates.  Whenever I attend a hearing, I "check in" at the local court house.  It's a subtle reminder to people letting them know what I do for a living.  It lets them also know that I actually go to court.  If you have proceedings throughout the state, it will also remind people that your practice is not limited to one geographic area.   To make it more interesting, I often accompany the check in with a photo of the courthouse.  These check ins are only seen by friends and family.  I have been surprised at the amount of business it has generated.   

3.  Don't Be Like Carla.   
I credit our client service for the great word of mouth our office enjoys.  Some of the things we do might even be considered goofy.  From 24 hour emergency contact to Polish speaking services, we offer unique services not found at other firms.  Clients in our waiting room are giving the option of using a Kindle as well as our selection of magazines. At around $200, the Kindle fire is relatively inexpensive. If a client is forced to wait in court while I discuss his or her matter with opposing counsel, the judge, or a prosecutor, I make sure that I bring along some reading material for them.  Our tech savvy clients love when we give them a Kindle downloaded with a selection of magazines.   (If it's a Polish client, I provide them with Polish reading material which can also be downloaded )  

4.  Communication is Key.   
I imagine the major source of grievances against attorneys is a lack of communication.  Often we are hired to assist individuals during the most difficult point of their lives. To often, we forget how foreign legal procedure can be to a client.  For example, a client may receive a court notice for a criminal matter that he must be in court at 9 AM.  From practice, you might know that the judge doesn't arrive until 10:30 and that it is not necessary to be there right at 9.  You might know that the client doesn't need to check in with the court marshal because they are represented by counsel.  You know which court room you need to be in.  You know there is no way the client is going to jail that day.  You know where the client needs to stand.  You know....but the client might not.  Keep your client informed.  Make them comfortable with the process.  I usually let my clients know that they shouldn't worry if they do not see me at 9 AM.  I tell them that I might be in the back discussing their case with a prosecutor or that I have to be in another court that morning.  I explain the process to them.  I tell them where they will be standing, what the judge will probably say and what to expect.  I try to make them feel informed and comfortable with the process.  The last thing you want is a client having a nervous breakdown because they don't see you exactly at 9 am.  

5.  Where Everyone Knows Your Name  
Our firm donates to a variety of local organizations and causes.  Whenever possible, many of our staff members will volunteer at local events.   We also hold legal seminars throughout the year.  In addition to getting your name out there, you do good for your community.

6.  Give Out a Free Beer Once in Awhile.   
If you are a solo practitioner, your legal fees are your life's blood.   Nevertheless, once in awhile I will give out that free beer.  I might not charge a long time client to help him out with a speeding ticket.   I might take the time to meet with an elderly client to explain to her that she shouldn't send $100,000 to an alleged Nigerian prince.  Just don't give out too many free beers.  The client will start to expect it.  You don't want Norm running up a tab expecting free beer all the time. The client might even undervalue your service and bring his big case somewhere else.

7.  Do a Good Job. 

8 comments:

Cliff Tuttle said...

Adrian:

Great post. One of your best.

I will provide a link on my blog.

Cliff Tuttle
Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

Adrian M. Baron said...

Thanks Cliff.

Dianne Weiss said...

Your posts are always a fun read. Thanks for sharing this with us!

Mike Sanders said...

Relationships are the key to any sustainable business model. Your relationships have clearly turned you into a "friend in need" for many people in your area and their friends.

People who serve people for a living (and who doesn't) often make the mistake of being shortsighted. This is to say that they only see one case, sale, contract etc. As a result, they don't do everything in their power to turn everyone who visits them into a repeat visitor.

I read some where that Wal Mart reminds its employees that each customer, whether they have a bag of chips in their hand or are pushing a brimming cart, is worth on average over a million dollars to their store over that person's lifetime.

You Adrian, are clearly are not making this fatal business blunder.

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