My Shingle

The Paradox of Client Service

by Carolyn Elefant on July 1, 2006 · 8 comments

in Client Relations, Client Service, Dealing With Clients

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There are a number of blogs like Dan Hull’s What About Clients? and In Search of Perfect Client Service that provide excellent advice on how to serve clients.  At the same time, for some lawyers, particularly new solos, serving clients isn’t as much of a problem as figuring out how to avoid falling into what I have termed “the paradox of client service,” the fact that we serve clients, but they are not our masters.  In the early years of my practice, I felt this tension between feeling like I’m a slave to my client while trying to stay in charge.  Originally, I chalked it up to a my personality, but now I wonder whether many new lawyers are predisposed to becoming slaves to clients because that’s the role we play in law school (performing on command to the Socratic method) and at firms.  Anyway, here are my thoughts below:

Perhaps the most difficult transition from working for others to working for yourself involves figuring out how to deal with the

  • http://www.whataboutclients.com Dan Hull

    Carolyn: This is a really hard but great subject. You’ve really hit on something. Client service is as difficult a part of law practice as anything–and the line between really serving clients and being overly-managed by them is even harder. And the smaller your firm, the harder it is, because every client colors your practice when you are small. Personally, I am very eager to please any client and, at the same time, need to be a good lawyer. My starting point for the whole issue is choosing clients very carefully. We must like them. While nearly all of our clients are companies with GCs or fairly sophisticated point people, ALL of them mirror distinct “company personalities” or “cultures”. In almost every case, the client rep’s personality with–and attitude towards–my firm does NOT reflect the personality of the individual client rep. Instead the rep reflects the client company line on virtually everything: brash, analytical, smart, semi-smart, green, careful, irresponsible, humanitarian, brutish, fun, not fun, whatever. The point for my firm is to carefully choose clients, and represent only clients we “like”. That means people finding clients “like us”, and who share certain values with us, i.e., be very aggressive, but plan first, and communicate with the client constantly (just as we at my firm tend to over-communicate with each other about everything). If the client is “like you”, or has the same values, it won’t even try to control you out of respect and understanding of the way you work. And, hey, it’s always okay to fire clients. We’ve done it a lot. Just don’t wait too long. Dan

  • http://www.whataboutclients.com Dan Hull

    Carolyn: This is a really hard but great subject. You’ve really hit on something. Client service is as difficult a part of law practice as anything–and the line between really serving clients and being overly-managed by them is even harder. And the smaller your firm, the harder it is, because every client colors your practice when you are small. Personally, I am very eager to please any client and, at the same time, need to be a good lawyer. My starting point for the whole issue is choosing clients very carefully. We must like them. While nearly all of our clients are companies with GCs or fairly sophisticated point people, ALL of them mirror distinct “company personalities” or “cultures”. In almost every case, the client rep’s personality with–and attitude towards–my firm does NOT reflect the personality of the individual client rep. Instead the rep reflects the client company line on virtually everything: brash, analytical, smart, semi-smart, green, careful, irresponsible, humanitarian, brutish, fun, not fun, whatever. The point for my firm is to carefully choose clients, and represent only clients we “like”. That means people finding clients “like us”, and who share certain values with us, i.e., be very aggressive, but plan first, and communicate with the client constantly (just as we at my firm tend to over-communicate with each other about everything). If the client is “like you”, or has the same values, it won’t even try to control you out of respect and understanding of the way you work. And, hey, it’s always okay to fire clients. We’ve done it a lot. Just don’t wait too long. Dan

  • http://temp.starklawlibrary.org/blog/archive/2006_07.html#005603 Stark County Law Library Blog

    “The Paradox of Client Service”

    Posted by Carolyn Elefant: ?There are a number of blogs like Dan Hull’s What About Clients? and In Search of

  • http://temp.starklawlibrary.org/blog/archive/2006_07.html#005603 Stark County Law Library Blog

    “The Paradox of Client Service”

    Posted by Carolyn Elefant: ?There are a number of blogs like Dan Hull’s What About Clients? and In Search of

  • http://lawfirmblogging.com/index.php/2006/07/06/should-attorneys-stop-focusing-on-client-service/ lawfirmblogging.com

    Should Attorneys Stop Focusing On Client Service?

    Theres an interesting conversation going on between Carolyn Elefant (of My Shingle) and Dan Hull (of In Search of Perfect Client Service) that questions The Paradox of Client Service.
    Ms. Elefant wonders whether:
    many new …

  • http://lawfirmblogging.com/index.php/2006/07/06/should-attorneys-stop-focusing-on-client-service/ lawfirmblogging.com

    Should Attorneys Stop Focusing On Client Service?

    Theres an interesting conversation going on between Carolyn Elefant (of My Shingle) and Dan Hull (of In Search of Perfect Client Service) that questions The Paradox of Client Service.
    Ms. Elefant wonders whether:
    many new …

  • http://soloinchicago.blogspot.com Peter Olson

    I think I definately suffered from this problem early on out of law school…I’m now in my 4th year of practice and 1.5 of those as a sole practitioner. I would suggest two or three common problems. First, I’d mention simple confidence as an issue. Without a great deal of experience, I never thought I knew enough to question clients or give great advice for that matter. Second, I think there was a hesitancy to disagree too strongly with clients just because I was worried about keeping clients and not offending them. I think these two items have sort of taken care of themselves as I’ve gotten more competent and experienced. Lastly, I think a lawyer needs to be a bit almost selfish in his/her perspective. What’s more important: some intransigent and wrong-headed client or the success of my business and my families economic well-being?

  • http://soloinchicago.blogspot.com Peter Olson

    I think I definately suffered from this problem early on out of law school…I’m now in my 4th year of practice and 1.5 of those as a sole practitioner. I would suggest two or three common problems. First, I’d mention simple confidence as an issue. Without a great deal of experience, I never thought I knew enough to question clients or give great advice for that matter. Second, I think there was a hesitancy to disagree too strongly with clients just because I was worried about keeping clients and not offending them. I think these two items have sort of taken care of themselves as I’ve gotten more competent and experienced. Lastly, I think a lawyer needs to be a bit almost selfish in his/her perspective. What’s more important: some intransigent and wrong-headed client or the success of my business and my families economic well-being?

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