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The Why and How of Paralegals Impressing Law Firm Clients

published February 12, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing

( 16 votes, average: 4.9 out of 5)

What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
When potential clients first enter the law office where you work, their initial impressions of the firm are influenced by a number of factors, including how they are treated by the front-desk people, how long they wait in the lobby, how they are greeted by the attorney who will handle their case, how politely and skillfully they are interviewed by the attorney, and (if this is part of the package) how well their case is delegated to the paralegal in charge.

The Why and How of Paralegals Impressing Law Firm Clients

What these items have in common relates to a service management concept called the "Moment of Truth" (MOT). By definition, a moment of truth occurs any time a client comes into contact with you or any part of your organization and makes a judgment about the service he or she receives. There are literally thousands of MOTs taking place each time someone does business with a law firm. With typical service businesses, MOTs are either negative (no towels in the hotel, rude phone clerks, etc.) or positive (a salesperson who calls to tell you about a sale, a free car wash at the car dealership, etc.) - You can and should manage these moments to reflect service quality in your office.

Customer satisfaction surveys tell us that if a person receives good service from an organization, he or she will likely tell five to seven people about it. But unfortunately, if a person receives poor service, he or she will likely tell nine to 11 people. Think about your own dealings with service firms like banks, insurance companies, hotels, auto repair shops, etc. If you were served in an efficient, timely, and gracious manner, you enjoyed the encounter and probably would mention it to friends and family. However, if you were mistreated at any of these places, such as by rude frontline employees, long delays, or poor workmanship, you probably would go out of your way to tell friends and family never to do business with that firm.

You work in a service industry, for there is no law firm without clients, and the principles of providing good service are the same as with any typical customer service business. In your own mind (but only in your mind, not in face-to-face contacts), get used to calling clients "customers"; their existence justifies your existence.

The MOT concept is a powerful one. Remember that people have many choices about where to go for legal services. Unless you work for the only attorney in your town, chances are the legal field is crowded with members offering an enormous variety of services for potential clients.

Just as word of mouth is a critical factor with service businesses, i.e., good service begets good word of mouth and bad begets bad, so it goes with law firms.

Marketing studies for attorneys tell us that most people pick an attorney from an ad in the phone book, from a television commercial, or on the recommendations of friends, relatives, or business colleagues. While this may seem a bit haphazard, it should point out that the margin for service errors is slim. If your firm can't or won't offer shining service to its clients, then those clients will go where they can get it.

While you can't control each of the many MOTs that relate to clients, you can monitor the ones that relate specifically to you. In many cases involving such matters as personal injury, worker's compensation, and family law, you'll handle the majority of client conversations that don't come into the scope of the attorney handling the case.
Client Interviews
Let us consider as an example a personal injury or criminal defense case. Many attorneys will handle the initial client interview and then turn the case over to you to begin the standard office procedures that will take it from start to finish. Often if you are to become at all involved, the attorney may call you into the office during this first meeting. While some attorneys will do this for the ceremony of introducing you to the client and the client to a member of the firm's legal staff, others will call you to the meeting so you can become personally familiar with the client and his or her case.

This meeting process can go a long way toward improving your grasp of the specifics of the case and your overall understanding of the many cases that come into the office. If you aren't now a part of the initial or follow-up client interviews and you feel you don't have enough information to process the files effectively, take the initiative to suggest to your attorneys that you attend these meetings.

Using a "Client Profile" sheet, you can fill in all the necessary data—names, addresses, telephone numbers, dates, times, insurance, defendant's name and insurance information, property damage, or arrest date, nature of the arrest, etc.—right on the spot. This can save you time, energy, and wasted phone calls because you can get the data while the client is available with the information you need.

If, on the other hand, you aren't privy to the initial client meetings, you'll obviously need to schedule your own appointment—in person at your office or by telephone—with the client. Because deadlines are nearly always looming no matter what the type of case, make sure you arrange this meeting quickly. Time has a way of spoiling even the best memories. Important documents can get lost, evidence disappears, and the longer you wait, the faster the other side can move ahead.

And bear in mind that in nearly every legal matter there is the Other side. Whether it happens to be an insurance company, a State Board, a prosecutor, a business conglomerate, a real estate buyer or seller, or another law firm, this other side is working on many of the same issues as your firm, even if it's in other directions.

Once the client has left the office, it's also a wise idea to stand by and ask for a "marching plan" from the attorney handling the case. This can be as simple as asking if this is a routine case to be handled in a similar fashion as others in the office or if there are extenuating circumstances or special factors relating to time, money, or information you may need to know, This post-client meeting can serve to pinpoint some of the issues that may become important later. You may need to make a number of immediate and important phone calls to verify information; you may need to do some legal research to see if the firm will want to take the case; or you may want to set any number of other people— legal experts, investigators, data searchers, etc.—in motion to help your position.
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