For better or worse, we’re all uber-connected these days, between our desktops and our smart phones and our tablets. While many of us can and do (and probably should) take technological time outs for holidays and weekends and evenings, responsiveness is a key factor in keeping clients, potential clients, and yes, even referral sources happy when reaching out about business. And yet, it is STILL one of the most overlooked (and easiest to fix) complaints that I hear about relationship building.

It’s a rather HUGE pet peeve of mine when people don’t take the time to respond to emails, and I know I’m not alone. Let’s talk about the message that it sends, and why it’s an easy fix.

I know lawyers are busy. I know that their time, literally, is money. So I can be (somewhat) forgiving of the attorneys who may not read and answer all of the emails that I send them.

However. 

It boggles my mind when someone emails a lawyer to say that they want to refer or send work to them, and the attorney doesn’t answer.

If someone sent me an (legitimate) email that basically says, “hey, I want to pay you money,” I would answer it (Nigerian princes notwithstanding).

I hear regularly from attorneys that they would like to develop new business, bring in new clients, do more work, so if that’s the case, how are you “too busy” when a referral source or client or potential client sends you an email with a request?

Almost all attorneys have assistants. All of them have smart phones.

So why not deputize your assistant to reply to the email with “Thanks, I’ve received your message and will get back to you shortly after I have had the chance to review it.” It lets the recipient know that you’ve received the email and it’s not lost in the ether, and it shows that you’re responsive, without committing to anything. If you don’t have an assistant, you can also quickly reply to those emails similarly with a quick note.

By the way, responsive = “I care about you and your business.”

And that applies to client emails during a matter that you’re working on as well. Many of the attorneys I know will not answer emails if the answer is going to be “no” or “I don’t know.” And that’s a mistake, because, again, responsiveness shows that you care.

We’ve heard over and over again that clients will often start with a small matter to get a sense of how the lawyer/firm handles their work, with the lesson being that there are no small matters. So to me, that also says there are no insignificant emails – if a client emails you and wants an update, email them back. Even if the answer is that you don’t have an update. They will appreciate that more than hearing nothing at all.

How do I know? Because they say it all.the.time. Every client I’ve talked to, or listened to, says that they want their lawyers to be more responsive. All of them. 

I know that from personal experience too, because I’ve also been on the client side. And my lawyer was extremely responsive, always giving me updates on what to expect, and when to expect it – it gave me amazing peace of mind, and not only would I use her again in the future, but I would heartily recommend her to anyone else who needed her services.

So ask yourself – am I being as responsive as I can be? 

And one more note, before I get off of my email soapbox – what I’ve noticed in my fifteen years in legal is that the busiest, most successful lawyers I know, the rainmakers, are also the ones who always read and respond to my emails within 24 hours. That’s not an exaggeration. The attorneys who travel the most, work with the most clients, manage their firms, and by all lawyer-standards for success are successful are also emailing me back, and emailing me back quickly.

So it IS possible to be busy, successful AND responsive. Give it a shot today. To recap – responsiveness in emailing means:

  • If someone sends you a new matter or a referral question, respond to that email within 24 hours, even if just to say that you’ve received it. Traveling or busy with another matter? Have your assistant email back with a time frame for your response. With smart phones, there is no excuse, and your clients and potential clients KNOW THAT.
  • If you don’t have an answer for someone, but it’s time to update them, or they’ve sent you an email looking for information, replying with “I don’t know,” or “I don’t have that information yet” is perfectly suitable. And FAR superior to not responding at all.
  • It’s worth saying again – deputize your assistants to respond to client and other emails. Obviously, they can’t provide legal advice, and shouldn’t, but they can at least acknowledge receipt and offer a time frame for which you will reply.

Responsiveness says that you care, and non-responsiveness says that you don’t. Which will you choose? 

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Photo of Lindsay Griffiths Lindsay Griffiths

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. In this capacity, Ms. Griffiths is responsible for the oversight and management of day-to-day operations of the International Lawyers Network (ILN). She develops strategies and implementation plans to achieve the ILN’s goals, and handles…

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. In this capacity, Ms. Griffiths is responsible for the oversight and management of day-to-day operations of the International Lawyers Network (ILN). She develops strategies and implementation plans to achieve the ILN’s goals, and handles recruitment, member retention, and a high level of service to members. She is engaged in the legal industry to stay on top of trends, both in law firms and law firm networks.

In her role as Executive Director, she develops and facilitates relationships among ILN member firm lawyers at 90+ law firms in 67 countries, and seeks opportunities for member firms to build business and relationships, while ensuring member participation in Network events and initiatives. These initiatives include facilitating referrals, the management and execution of the marketing and business development strategy for the Network, which encompasses all communications, push-down efforts, and marketing partnerships, providing support and guidance to the chairs and group leaders for the ILN’s thirteen practice and industry specialty groups, the ILN’s women’s initiative, the ILN’s mentorship program, the management and execution of all ILN conferences, and more.

JD Supra Readers Choice Top Author 2019

During her previous tenure as Director of Global Relationship Management, the ILN has been shortlisted as a Global Law Firm Network of the Year by The Lawyer for 2016 and 2017, and included as a Chambers & Partners Leading Law Firm Network since 2011. 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 recently included in Clio’s list for “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 recently chosen for 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 of 2009.