Written by David Kempston, Attorney at The Law Office of Thomas D. Mottaz and Author of That’s Why They Call It Practicing Law
I wrote a book for lawyers and those who want to be lawyers, called That’s Why They Call It Practicing Law. The book is short, practical and humorous.
The focus is on improving the attorney-client relationship through elevated customer service. Peppered with personal anecdotes, the book combines wisdom with humor to explore 22 different practice pointers.
I chose the title because providing the best representation requires persistent practice. All attorneys possess flaws and imperfections and we also demonstrate differing levels of skill and competence. Regardless of our starting point, all of us can improve our craft—if we’re willing to learn and engage in self-examination. The effort requires work.
Originally, I compiled these thoughts for a seminar presented to a group of trial lawyers. The inspiration came from an iconic Minnesota department store that provided legendary customer service. My experience when shopping there invariably included the following:
- a friendly and knowledgeable staff,
- quality goods, and
- a great return policy.
The store operated under the rule, “the customer is always right.” While not always true—this maxim provides an excellent foundation for customer service. Application of this paradigm to client relations will elevate a legal practice.
A lawyer who lectures on client relations once said, “To give great client service, create a great client relationship.” This is excellent advice. But I think if you want to create a great relationship, you must provide great service. I flipped the order because I believe the relationship is primary. And as Steve Covey wrote in The 7 Habits, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
If you provide great customer service, you strengthen the client relationship. Your clients feel well-tended and cared for. You build relational equity. This deposit will help you navigate later challenges with the client. You also accrue good will. The client will not only respect you, but will be more likely to trust you.
After two plus decades of practicing law, I’ve concluded clients don’t always recognize good lawyering. In fact, they often don’t. I can think of several instances where heavy-handed blunders in the courtroom elicited unwarranted client praise. For some reason, these bull-headed behaviors tend to draw more client plaudits than quiet finesse or skillful maneuvering. This shouldn’t be.
Most clients—regardless of their sophistication—recognize great customer service. If you provide this level of service to your clients, you will reap benefits. Not every lawyer masters the art of litigation and not every lawyer is brilliant. But we all can strive to distinguish our practice by the type of service we provide. We can aim for excellence.
Over the years, I’ve mentored both law students and young attorneys. They often ask what they can do to excel in their legal careers. I urge them to follow the advice of former Steelers’ coach, Chuck Noll, who encouraged his players, “Do the ordinary things better than everybody else.” This approach is profitable.
If you provide great customer service, you’ll profit in at least three ways:
- you separate yourself from other lawyers,
- you keep most of your existing clients satisfied, and
- you generate new clients—based on satisfied client referrals.
A lawyer cannot please all clients. There will always be the five percent who are unhappy no matter what you do; however, most clients will appreciate the extra effort. Of course, nobody is perfect—you will occasionally fall short. However, it’s how you’re characterized that counts.
It’s dangerous to hold oneself out to others as knowing how to provide quality service. I’m reminded of the author who wrote a book on effective living. I enjoyed the book—it was well-written and made great points. Years later, however, I heard about an incident between the writer and a fellow taxi passenger—an encounter not at all consistent with the contents of the book. The author, for that moment, failed to comport with his own writings. I don’t want to be like him.
I confess I haven’t mastered these concepts. Rather, I’m a work in progress. I suspect you’re like me—capable of improvement in this area. So please read and engage. Feel free to learn from my mistakes. May we improve our practice as lawyers as we seek to provide better customer service to clients.
David was born and educated on the West Coast. He moved to Minnesota to attend law school over 29 years ago. Since graduating from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1992 (Magna Cum Laude and Order of the Coif), he has spent over 26 years as a litigator—primarily handling workers compensation claims. During that interval, he has tried about 400 worker’s compensation cases. He has also appeared at oral argument in front of various appellate courts, including the Minnesota Supreme Court, about 30 times.
He has been voted a Super Lawyer every year since 2000. He was recently named the 2017 Anoka County lawyer of the year by the Anoka County Bar Association. He frequently lectures on the MN Worker’s Compensation Statute and is a co-contributing author to a chapter in the MN Worker’s Compensation Deskbook (chapter 7). And he has written a book, published through Amazon in 2017, entitled That’s Why They Call It Practicing Law.
When not lawyering, he likes to read, run and snowboard—and to spend time with his 4 kids and 2 grandkids.