This post is part of the MyShingle Solos summer series which will run between June 17 and July 3, 2014. 

denisenichols This post is written by MyShingle Guest Blogger Denise Nichols

For my second contribution to the MyShingle Solos summer series, I was planning to share my story of returning to law school after a 20 year career in the music industry.  But something happened this week that caused me to rethink the direction of this blog.   For the first time in my four years of practicing law, a client fired me and (**gasp**) it was my fault and easily avoidable.

In my area of practice (transactional entertainment law) it is not entirely foreign for a client to use attorney A’s services one time, and attorney B’s services the next time. It may be that the client prefers the prestige of a “name” firm or attorney (and the client is at a point in their business or career where hiring a prestigious firm or attorney is feasible), or that attorney A does not possess the necessary knowledge and skill to assist the client. I lost a client this week for neither of these reasons; I simply procrastinated my way to being fired.

The matter for which this particular client sought my services required that I do some research (though it was still solidly within my “wheelhouse”), and I told myself that because it was going to take additional time, I needed to finalize the other matters on my desk and/or wait until I could block enough time to dedicate to this matter.   As anyone who is self-employed knows, your workload ebbs and flows.  Recently – fortunately – I have been in a “flow.”   In fact, my firing could be viewed as timely – I am in the process of forming an of-counsel relationship with an attorney to help with the overflow; and if I had any doubt about doing this, it is now gone.  So, was I busy?  Absolutely.  Extremely so.  But even I don’t buy that excuse.  I procrastinated and I was unresponsive, and I’m not exactly sure why.  My actions essentially “told” my client that they were not important – a client relations cardinal sin.  Simply put, I treated my client disrespectfully.

As I often do when confronted with a problem or crisis, I searched the Internet, Googling phrases such as “why clients fire attorneys” and “attorney client relationship problems,” and found a plethora of information – articles, blogs, and lists … lots and lots of lists (and I have a proclivity for lists).  Topping many of these lists was procrastination and/or unresponsiveness, or some variation thereof.  Clearly, I wasn’t facing this issue alone.  But why?  What is it about the practice of law that makes an otherwise punctual and communicative person go MIA?   To attempt an answer, I continued my unscientific Internet (re)search, and distilled the information to (what else?) a list.  Here are the top five reasons I believe attorneys are sometimes unresponsive and have a tendency towards procrastination:

  1. As Type A personalities, we don’t want to admit that we are overwhelmed and can’t do it all ourselves.
  2. We have put off doing what the client needs for so long that we know we should reach out to see whether they still want us to handle the matter, but we are too embarrassed to do so.
  3. We don’t like to ask others for help for fear it will be perceived as a weakness.
  4. We did not take thorough notes during the client meeting, and now we don’t recall some of the details necessary to proceed (so maybe if we wait long enough, we’ll remember?).
  5. We are afraid our clients will discover that we are not as smart as the other attorneys in the (hypothetical) room.  DISCLAIMER:  The above list is based solely on my own experiences, and is not intended to apply to all lawyers everywhere.

Being fired this week was a wake-up call.  Without my clients, I do not have a law practice.  And because most of my business is referral based, it is likely I lost not only one client, but other clients to whom I may have been referred. The most difficult aspect was acknowledging that I deserved to be fired – and that I would have done the same thing had I been in my client’s shoes.  Once I recovered from the initial shock and bruised ego, I started to consider what should have been done differently – and what I would do differently in the future, which naturally led to … ANOTHER LIST:

The Five Practices of Client Relations 

  1. Practice Honesty:  I often underestimate the time it will take to provide the services the client needs.   This stems from my concern that if I don’t assure the client that I am able to meet their expectations, someone else will. As I proved this week, there are worse ways – and reasons – to lose a client.
  2. Practice Better Listening:  Pay attention to not only what the client says, but what they don’t say.  Their choice of words, body language and tone of voice are equally important communications. Beware of making assumptions or jumping to conclusions too quickly.
  3. Practice Responsiveness:   Communicate – consistently and considerately.  Starting immediately, everyone who contacts my office will receive a response within 24 hours.
  4. Practice Follow-Through:  If you promise it, do it.  If you can’t do it (or if you are not sure you can), don’t promise it.   No exceptions.
  5. Practice Appreciation: Thank the client – for their business, their confidence, their referrals, and even their timely payments – but do so with sincerity. Clients can quickly discern whether or not the “thank you” is sincere.

Chances are good that I will fall short of adhering to The Five Practices of Client Relations day in and day out.  It is also likely that this will not be last time I am fired by a client.  However, I am choosing to view this event as a reminder of the importance of always treating everyone – staff, other attorneys, and especially clients – with the utmost respect.

The Primacy Firm is a boutique entertainment law firm that caters to the Nashville creative community.  Founded in 2010 by  music industry veteran, Denise Nichols, the firm focuses on assisting creative individuals and small businesses navigate the constantly-changing legal landscape of the entertainment industry.