The advice to "think like a client" in order to improve your client service is not a new one – but today, I want to offer you a little bit of a twist on that advice, which will help you to up your game. 

The idea of thinking like your client can be a daunting one – while we all endeavor to understand our clients’ challenges, concerns, and pain points no matter what field we’re in, unless we’ve spent time there ourselves, we’re only privy to second-hand knowledge (for the most part). 

But whether we’ve been on the client side in our own industries or not, we’ve all been and are clients – as lawyers, you are purchasers of various services, from consultants to building services to office products and more. In our personal lives, we are consumers of goods and services, including everything from groceries and electronics to personal care, travel, and more. 

I’ve asked you before to think of yourselves as the client in these cases, and to identify what it is you want from those interactions – things such as understanding of what you’re really asking, common courtesy, on-time delivery, exceeding expectations, etc. 

Think Like a Client

That is always a useful exercise, and today, I invite you to look at the areas in which you’re a client – pay particular attention to those where you get easily annoyed or frustrated and ask yourself why that may be. 

  • Did someone promise to do something in a particular time frame, and fail to meet that time frame? Did they go a step further by not informing you of the change? 
  • Did someone deliver something that wasn’t up to the level of quality that you expected, but they tried to cover it up, or make it seem as though it was your fault? 
  • Were they having a bad day, and passed that attitude of anger or impatience along to you as the client? 

These and any number of scenarios like that can happen incredibly easily, and do happen regularly.  None of us are particularly happy to be on the receiving end, and it will often make us question not only whether that person will be seeing our business again, but also whether we’ll pass along our impressions to friends and others.  Word of mouth is a very powerful thing, as we know. 

When these things happen, think about how you feel as the client in these scenarios, and dig a little deeper to identify what the real issues are. 

  • Were you annoyed that the project wasn’t completed on time, or were you more annoyed that you weren’t kept in the loop and maybe looked foolish because of the delay? 
  • Were you just looking for acknowledgement that the item or service you received wasn’t up to standard, and willing to come to another resolution about it? 
  • Were you expecting a certain level of politeness that was lacking? 

These ideas are then easily translated for law firms into what your clients want. 

  • Delays in matters come up regularly, and in many instances, clients will understand this.  If you communicate to them the reason for the delay, and the new expected time frame, they’ll be much more reasonable than if it’s a surprise. No matter how many times they say it, it always bears repeating – clients HATE surprises. 
  • This is the same for cost adjustments – surprises crop up, but if you keep your clients advised of them as soon as you know, and can estimate what the new costs may be, the client will be more likely to pay the invoice when they receive it. 

The overall key here is about managing expectations and communicating as much as possible.  None of us likes to feel stupid and with each area of specialization (this is true of everything – legal matters, computer terminology, grocery stores, EVERYTHING) there is an individual lexicon. These lexicons are specific to that industry or area of specialization, and knowing them isn’t a matter of common sense – it’s a matter of experience.

Your client is experienced in their own lexicon – it may be business-related entirely, it may have some legal influences, or even a lot of legal influences. But it will not be as extensive as yours is for your own field, simply because it does not have to be for them to do their jobs well.  

Bear that in mind when you’re speaking with your clients – we walk a delicate line between helping to educate them and facilitate their experience in our own lexicons and treating them like they’re not as smart as we are, so walk that carefully. 

Think Like a Provider

In addition to thinking like a client today though, I also want you to think like a provider. I know you’re already doing this, but I want you to do it in a very specific way – as the provider of a client that is YOU. 

In all of the above scenarios, we were keeping an eye out for our interactions as a client, to see where our pain points were. What gets us frustrated or annoyed? What makes us mad enough to want to take our business elsewhere, and suggest that others do the same?

We’ve looked at the root of the issue, and what’s really driving those feelings in these interactions – and that will help you to be a better provider of legal services to your own clients.  But now, let’s think about the chain reaction, and how we, as providers, may be causing that. 

Think, for a moment, about the things that your clients do that drive you crazy as a provider. Are they asking questions that you think they should already know the answer to? Are they bugging you about a matter that you thought you’d given them a transparent time frame for? Are they really surprised about the turn that the case took, even though you’d noted in your initial discussions with them that it was a reasonable possibility? 

We all have that mental list about our clients – the things that really irritate us because "don’t they already know the answer to that??"

Now that I’ve got you good and irritated, look again at that list, and walk yourself through what it really means: 

  • Is a client asking you a question that you believe they should know the answer to because this is a new situation for them, and they’re not yet familiar with the lexicon? Are they asking you for the millionth time because they’re busy and it slips right out of their mind after speaking with you? Are they asking because they’re covering up what they really want to know, that you’ve got the matter well in hand?
  • Are they bugging you about something that you’ve already checked in on? Why might that be? Perhaps they are anxious about the outcome, or they’re anxious about your level of commitment.  Usually, if this is happening, it’s the type of client who needs a little extra hand-holding throughout the process. If you really want that client to be happy, you’ll take the time to do it. 
  • Do they seem surprised by something that happened during the matter, or an additional cost? Is it possible that you didn’t communicate quickly enough to them that something had come up? Did they really understand from the outset the percentage that the outcome was likely? Or were they focused on hearing only what they wanted to hear? With some clients, overcommunicating will be necessary – you have to go by feel to decide whether they’re truly understanding the risks and outcomes that you’re projecting as possibilities. 

Each of these scenarios will be different for each client, so ask yourself what it is that they are REALLY asking.  Put yourself in the position of being the provider for yourself as the client – when you’re purchasing something in a new situation or even a familiar one, what is it that you want? When you ask certain types of questions, what are you really asking? How do you want the providers to answer those questions or meet those needs? How do you want to be treated? 

Yes, it’s true that we’re all different, and we will all consume goods and services differently. But while you can make adjustments for various personal and cultural concerns, in general, we all want to be treated with respect, to understand what we are receiving and when we will receive it, and why certain things are happening. 

We can assume that by virtue of the client seeking you out as their attorney, that you are already qualified, intelligent and talented in your field. For some matters, talent will outweigh everything else – the client won’t have to like you, you just need to be the best at what you do.  But those are few and far between.

For the most part, clients want to feel as though they are being taken care of, and that you care about them, their matter, and their comfort. Look at how you would want to be treated in the same scenarios, and work to deliver that to your clients, each and every time. 

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Photo of Lindsay Griffiths Lindsay Griffiths

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. She is a dynamic, influential international executive and marketing thought leader with a passion for relationship development and authoring impactful content. Griffiths is a driven, strategic leader who implements creative initiatives to achieve the…

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. She is a dynamic, influential international executive and marketing thought leader with a passion for relationship development and authoring impactful content. Griffiths is a driven, strategic leader who implements creative initiatives to achieve the goals of a global professional services network. She manages all major aspects of the Network, including recruitment, member retention, and providing exceptional client service to an international membership base.

In her role as Executive Director, Griffiths manages a mix of international programs, engages a diverse global community, and develops an international membership base. She leads the development and successful implementation of major organizational initiatives, manages interpersonal relationships, and possesses executive presence with audiences of internal and external stakeholders. Griffiths excels at project management, organization, and planning, writes and speaks with influence and authority, and works independently while demonstrating flexibility in thinking, especially in challenging situations. She also adapts to diverse and dynamic environments with constant assessment and recalibration.

JD Supra Readers Choice Top Author 2019

In 2021, the ILN was honored as Global Law Firm Network of the Year by The Lawyer European Awards, and in 2016, 2017, and 2022, they were shortlisted as Global Law Firm Network of the Year. Since 2011, the Network has been listed as a Chambers & Partners Leading Law Firm Network, recently increasing this ranking to be included in the top two percent of law firm networks globally, as well as adding two regional rankings. She was awarded “Thought Leader of the Year” by the Legal Marketing Association’s New York chapter in 2014 for her substantive contributions to the industry and was included in Clio’s list of “34 People in Legal You Should Follow on Twitter.” She was also chosen for the American Bar Association Journal’s inaugural Web 100‘s Best Law Blogs, where judge Ivy Grey said “This blog is outstanding, thoughtful, and useful.” Ms. Griffiths was chosen as a Top Author by JD Supra in their 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards, for the level of engagement and visibility she attained with readers on the topic of marketing & business development. She has been the author of Zen & the Art of Legal Networking since February 2009.