Matt Homen ("Six Minutes on Client Service Design") suggests breaking down the client service experience to identify and deliver value on what “drives the client freakin’ crazy” about the experience.  For example, waiting in an airport check-in line is part of the experience of going to the airport. By focusing on what the person in line is thinking and feeling you can identify what they value most at that particular point in time – “I want the line to move faster.”

I’ve recently helped a client retain outside counsel. Getting the chance to participate in this process from the client side of things revealed that retaining counsel is itself part of the client service experience. Even if the outside counsel pitching the work is not successful, if they’ve delivered on the value the client places on the experience, they create a relationship that likely will give rise to future work from this client or others with whom the client shares the experience.

Take that part of the retention process where the client is interviewing the short list of lawyer candidates. What does the client want in that moment? The answer, in the client’s voice, is that “I want to the interview to be more productive.” 

How to deliver on this value? What must you do to make the interview more productive?

1.         The client is interested in hiring you, not your associate or junior partner. The lead dog has to be visible and engaged. If it’s a meeting, sit at the head of the table. If there is a slide show, take the lead in presenting the slides. If there is a phone call, do all the talking for your team. The client wants to come away from the interview with a good feeling of what it will be like to get advice and strategy from you, not some underling. If your associate looks or sounds like the person who did all the legwork for the interview, assume the client is running away from you.

2.         “Tell me something I don’t know.” More often than not the candidate defers saying anything substantive because “it’s too early in the case” or because “we have not had the chance to look at the documents.” True enough, but based on your knowledge of the local judge and/or such things as the local patent rules, you can reasonably predict when claim construction will occur, how long the judge will allot for the hearing, the likelihood you will be allowed to introduce expert testimony, and identify more recent District Court decisions on the relevant subject matter. This is a huge opportunity to demonstrate subject matter expertise. Even if the interview does not go anywhere, the client comes away feeling like they’ve learned something new which will help them do their job better.

3.         Do not recite your full resume. LinkedIn, your website bio, etc has already been scoured.   Instead, tell the client which specific parts of your education and job experience are relevant to the matter under consideration. This is concrete data that will assist the client in determining whether you are more likely than the competition to achieve a successful outcome.

4.         Who does the client like to have a drink with after work? The client may not know you, but if there are persons in their social circle who do and who will speak favorably of you, then you’ve made it much easier for the client to trust you.

5.         Who are judges, clients or other lawyers with (or against) whom you’ve obtained favorable results that are known and respected by the client? By association, you’ve given the client meaningful information on which to make a decision.

Finally, if you don’t get anything else right, know how much you cost. It was stunning how often my hourly billing colleagues DIDN’T KNOW THEIR HOURLY RATE! You are asking the client to pay, in their mind, a painfully high rate or fee. Your ignorance of your rate drives the client crazy and demonstrates you care so little about their business that you could not take the time to figure out the rates for you and your team in advance of the interview.