Tag Archives: What About Paris?

Are Dan Hull’s Rules of Client Service Really So Infuriating?

Customer-Service2I am a big fan of Dan Hull‘s writing at his popular What About Paris/What About Clients blog. He has intellect, wit and a literary bent. One post which often seems to show up again and again in the legal blogosphere is his self-described “World Famous Bad-Ass, Annoying and Infuriatingly Correct 12 Rules of Customer Service.” If you’re not familiar with the 12 Rules, and you work in virtually any service industry, they’re worth thinking about.

I’ve wondered, however, why Dan refers to his own Rules as “annoying” and “infuriating.” Though I suspect he’s being hyperbolic, I think his description is unfair. I also think that any lawyer who finds the Rules annoying or infuriating should maybe look into another line of work. Here’s why I think the Rules are not so very annoying:

1.Represent only clients you like.

Ah, what a luxury, to be able to cherry pick clients and jettison those you don’t personally like. The Rule would be annoying, infuriating even, if you took the short, as opposed to the long view. If you’re a first year at a firm and servicing the firm’s clients, you definitely don’t have this luxury. However, as your career matures, you can hopefully begin to shape your practice and client development efforts so that you can increasingly avoid clients you don’t like. And you should. The remaining Rules are much easier to follow if you’re doing work for people or companies you like and respect.

2.The client is the main event.

If you’ve been a client, a patient or customer and been treated as a second class citizen–and who hasn’t–this rings true. The minute you lose sight of this Rule you’ve begun walking the road toward extinction, at least as a lawyer. Unless you provide a unique set of skills or knowledge and there is no one else in your region to compete with, you must follow this commandment, because at least one of your competitors will.

3.Make sure everyone in your firm knows the client is the main event.

Why would this be annoying? After all, these people are on your payroll. A good way to gauge whether others in your firm appreciate the importance of the client is by what they include in internal email communications. If, for example, they let comments slip into communications intended for distribution only within the law firm that suggest they do not completely respect the client, this should set off alarm bells and a chat should follow. First, we’ve all heard examples of emails in which the sender intended only to “reply” or “forward” the message, but instead hit “reply to all,” where “all” included someone–like a client–who didn’t appreciate a comment contained in the message. It’s a matter of time before this happens to everyone. Second, we often interact with our clients through our staff or associates. They need to treasure your clients (almost) as much as you do.

4.Deliver legal work that changes the way clients think about lawyers.

This Rule really doesn’t ask you to do anything beyond what many lawyers already do: aspire to practice law effectively, efficiently and, in the case of courtroom lawyers, win! The good news is that, with so many hacks running around out there, if you hold yourself to higher professional standards you’re already applying this Rule and clients will appreciate it. The bad news is that, with so many hacks out there, doing what hacks do, for so long, it’s going to take a lot to change the way clients think about lawyers. But do your part.

5.Over-communicate:  bombard, copy and confirm.

Put yourself in your client’s shoes. How much information would you want? It has been said that, as lawyers, we “sell paper.” That’s probably an oversimplification, but there is some truth to the notion that a client cannot appreciate what he or she never sees. A good part of what we charge for is the preparation of work product–motions, pleadings, correspondence, memoranda–why not let clients see what they’re paying for?

6.When you work, you are marketing.

Since we comply with Rule 5, supra, our clients can see and evaluate our work product. If the quality is high, it is both justification for the fees we charge and an advertisement why the client should hire us, and not a competitor, next time. If the quality is not high, it’s a perfect advertisement for our competitors. If you take pride in your work product, why would this be annoying?

7.Know the client.

In my practice, which focuses on defending employers in suits and claims arising out of the employment relationship, this Rule is elementary. It is why, as I’ve said, I take every opportunity to hold meetings at my clients’ offices or facilities. As Dan has said, “The client . . . actually wants you to know him, her or it. Take time out to learn the stock price, industry, day-to-day culture, players and overall goals of your client. Visit their offices and plants. Do it free of charge.”

8.Think like the client–help control costs.

I am constantly amazed at how costs mount when a case is litigated. I am not referring necessarily to the fees charged by the attorneys themselves, because this is a topic about which I have only the slightest understanding. Beyond a hazy idea of what others charge who do exactly what I do in my region, I don’t know what goes into this equation. I’m told there are now lawyers who bill $1,200 per hour. All I can say is, really?

Beyond attorney fees, however, there is a lot we can do to control costs when a case is in litigation, including deposition costs, investigation costs, photocopy costs. Sometimes, it takes some creativity, but our interests here should be aligned with our client and we should scrutinize these hard costs just as we would if we were paying invoices out of our own pockets.

9.Be there for clients–24/7.

This is what that iPhone is for (not just to play Angry Birds and take “selfies”). Oh, what it must have been like to practice law before fax machines, computers or mobile phones. But we don’t. We’re in a different era. We should not only survive in this new environment, but thrive.

10.Be accurate, thorough and timely–but not perfect.

Again, treat your client as you expect to be treated as a client, patient or customer. But feel free to occasionally cut yourself some slack, too.

11.Treat each co-worker like he or she is your best client.

This doesn’t sound at first like a rule geared toward client service, but here’s what Dan has said about Rule 11:

“Clients love to form partnerships with law, accounting, consulting firms and service providers of all manner with genuinely functional workplaces.  They love work communities where the professionals are demanding but love what they do and solve problems together as a team of happy, focused people who stretch–but respect–one another.  It’s fun for them to watch, and fun to watch them watch youClients want to be part of that.  Watching the “well-oiled” team is an image which sticks in the client mind.”

A well-oiled team is not only an image that sticks in the client’s mind, it is also a really good way to make the practice of law fun instead of pure drudgery.

12.Have fun.

Well, duh!


Knowing The Score Before You Open Your Mouth

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Legal blogging rock star and client service guru Dan Hull recently recommended an interesting book, Lawyering: A Realistic Approach to Legal Practice, by James C. Freund. Trusting Dan’s judgment, I promptly ordered up a dog-eared copy of the tome from AbeBooks.

Turning first to the chapter entitled “Handling Clients,” I found some interesting and sage advice right away. Freund asks what do you do when a client calls and wants to be counseled whether her company can legally do something. In the simplest terms, if a client asks you the sum of 2 + 2, do you automatically say 4? Or should we be concerned with what the client wants to hear? Would she prefer to hear 5?

Recognizing this sounds like ethical blasphemy, Freund rushes to explain himself:

“Now before you round up a posse to haul me before the bar association, let me hasten to add that the reason for desiring this knowledge is not . . . that it can or should affect the substance of your answer or reaction, where a legal issue or some other objective manifestation of your views is concerned. You’re not worth your salt as a lawyer if you provide phony answers to please a client. You have to call ‘em as you see ‘em, no matter what the consequences: it may be painful at the time, but in the long run your client will respect you for this and value your advice all the more.

On the other hand, knowing how the client wants to come out can be very important to you in deciding on the manner in which you reply–the style, as contrasted with the substance–and on shaping any practical advice you might offer.” (151-152)

Freund offers a couple of good illustrations, hypos if you will, to make his point. In the first, you are called by a client CEO who immediately announces you are on speaker phone and in the room with him is an “Employee.” CEO wants to know whether the company can issue the Employee shares of stock which the Employee will pay for with promissory notes.

While the law either allows or doesn’t allow the company to issue shares to an Employee to be paid for with promissory notes (I have no friggin’ clue), Freund points out that “the way that you handle the question can be influenced significantly by whether . . . (CEO) actually wants to issue . . . (Employee) some stock for notes, or whether . . . (he)’s just going through a charade–using you as a whipping boy–for the benefit of . . . (Employee).” (152)

What do you do? Freund suggests you try to ascertain what client CEO really wants to hear before you begin providing advice (assuming, unlike me, you could answer this query on the fly). Freund concedes it may not be easy to determine CEO’s angle:

“By the way, ascertaining . . . (CEO)’s real interest here may not be so easy–and tomorrow, you should let him know what an uncomfortable position he put you in, with a warning against future repetitions. For openers, don’t answer right away. Get . . . (CEO) talking; he’s likely to drop a clue (such as, ‘I told (Employee) this was a very difficult thing for a public company to do . . .’), which you can then pick up on.” (152)

Another way to get an idea what the client is looking for is to “test the water. Say: ‘And what did you tell him when he made that suggestion?’ The client’s reply should give you a fair indication of the direction in which he’s heading.” (153)

But why do you want to know? Again, it’s not about conjuring a phony answer, but about subtly strengthening your relationship with the client and bringing greater value. For example:

“If you determine that  . . . (CEO) isn’t really interested in issuing the stock, you can emphasize the legal difficulties which do exist under the applicable state law when you use notes to pay for par value shares–to say nothing of the unfriendly scrutiny such a transaction would receive from stockholders, other employees, and so on. All of this is good, sound counsel; you’re not deceiving anyone . . . On the other hand, if you sense that . . . (CEO) very much wants to issue the shares, then your litany of difficulties would be somewhat more muted, with a smooth transition into a constructive analysis of how the transaction can be accomplished–by securing the note, charging bona fide interest, and so on.” (152)

Again, as Freund says, the object of this preliminary fact-finding isn’t to cause you to change the substance of your advice to match the client’s desires, but instead to influence how you present the advice. The closer we get to the justifiably coveted status of “trusted advisor,” the more these subtleties matter. We’re not legal research “machines,” hired to churn out one-dimensional answers to legal questions without regard to how our advice impacts the client. Our role is not just to protect, but to advance the client’s interests, and the route to this goal is not always obvious or easy.


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