That was the question raised at our workshop last weekend on technology, marketing and office management.
On the one hand, if you are going to do good work and distinguish yourself from the crowd of bankruptcy attorneys, client service is central.
On the other, too much time plowing the same ground is inefficient and eats into profits.
If you have staff, you know the sense that your staff is taking too much time trying to explain things to clients as they work on the filing.
The problem manifests itself another way: you find a couple of clients who have the same gap in their understanding about how they have to contribute to the filing process or the same misunderstanding about something you said.
Some of those gaps can threaten the case outcome if you don’t find the hole and fill it.
Either one I take as evidence that I came up short in my role as educator for the client.
At the outset of the attorney client relationship, I need to deliver a bare bones understanding of bankruptcy and the broad brush principles that run through it:
Clients need to grasp that bankruptcy law concerns itself not just with what you have on the day you file, but what you’ve transferred away. “It isn’t worth anything” is not an excuse for omitting anything.
As attorneys, it’s easy to forget how counter intuitive some of this stuff is.
I tackle client education early, often, and repeatedly.
- My website is full of substantive information on bankruptcy. Many of my clients first find the firm on the web.
- I have one page handouts on subjects broad and narrow: introduction to bankruptcy, Chapter 7, Chapter 13, foreclosure and taxes; issues with encumbered cars, etc. The general ones go out when the first appointment is made. The narrower ones I deliver at the conclusion of the first meeting.
- I lay the groundwork for those nuggets in the initial consultation.
Eyes and ears
People have different learning styles. Some need to see it on paper for it to stick. Others learn better by hearing it.
I haven’t the time or training to figure out which it is for each client, so I do it both ways.
The danger with delivering important information orally is the problem presented by the children’s circle game Gossip. The message changes with repetition.
When you tell a client something basic, you run the danger of omitting or under emphasizing some aspect of the message. That’s why I have a checklist in my initial consult file to complete while the client and I sit together. I run over all the important “messages” I have to deliver.
So, when I hear my paralegal spending an inordinate amount of time with a client on the phone over a basic point, I make a note to readjust my initial consultation spiel or to write another handout to deliver the message better.
Image courtesy of JavierKiopo.