Connecting with Clients During COVID-19

By Brandon Vogel

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When you think about your practice, the most important part is your clients.  And now is the perfect time to connect and reconnect with clients.

Carol Schiro Greenwald, Ph.D., discussed simple ways to effectively connect and communicate with clients on the recent CLE webinar, “Do Your Clients Know You Care?”

Greenwald said that as COVID-19 pandemic continues, lawyers need to understand that the new normal is anything but normal.

“We need to think about this new normal, how to work with it and how we change our approach” said Greenwald.

As cases rise, industries have fallen, such as the traditional restaurant model.

“These are opportunities for lawyers to think about how the legal world can help fallen industries or people who have lost everything,” said Greenwald. “Chaos is a wonderful time to connect with clients.”

She explained that people are looking for reassurance and perspective on what is happening.

“Client service refers to a pattern of interactions. What people really want now is nurturing. It’s client service plus because basically what you are talking about is an emotional tie. Something that says I want to talk to you about what’s worrying you,” said Greenwald. “What you are doing then is indicating that you want a stronger, deeper relationship.”

However, it requires more work from you, Greenwald advised. “It’s desirable to move from vendor to advisor. Recognize you begin like any vendor,” said Greenwald. “You need to earn client’s trust. You earn it through your behavior.”

She suggested that lawyers create a “client touch” program. To begin, lawyers must have a plan. From there, Greenwald recommended that you select a subgroup of clients, be it your best clients, most prestigious clients or highest-paying clients. After that, you can create a research plan. Attorneys must decide when and how to connect. Plan the conversation and send a follow up email. Define success, Greenwald recommended.

“Shift your focus from what’s relevant to the legal matter to an understanding of the whole client and the client’s world,” said Greenwald. “It requires empathy and validation.”

Before conversing with a client, create a broad list of questions and personal coping questions.

“Add your knowledge of the COVID-19 impact on them,” said Greenwald. “Reassure them about your firm, your new normal approach, where you will be working from, tech improvements you’ve made.”

She suggested that lawyers add a sentence to their website showing they get it and are empathetic to clients’ needs. Stay focused on your clients and listen; do not get into a ping pong match over who has it worse, advised Greenwald.

The July 2020 Clio briefing unveiled that seven in 10 lawyers are worried about their client’s ability to pay bills. One-third of clients believe lawyers have stopped working as a result of the pandemic but only 2% of firms have closed because of COVID-19. Twenty-five percent of law firms are forfeiting more revenue due to unpaid bills as compared to before the pandemic. Forty-nine percent of consumers could not afford to deal with a legal problem.

Lawyers can help clients by offering solutions such as an extended payment schedule, PayPal or Venmo payment options, flat fees or COVID-19 discounts for people who are unemployed as a result of the pandemic. She said this helps build client trust.

“It grows from a belief that you hear them, acknowledge their views, become part of the solution,” said Greenwald.

She cautioned that understanding does not mean that you agree, it means you know. She recommended that lawyers develop active listening skills to focus their attention.

“Make the environment safe enough for trust to develop,” said Greenwald. “Listening strengthens ties and increases your understanding of the client. Conversations are two-way. Respond in a thoughtful way. Show you are on their wavelength.

“There is nothing more powerful than one person really listening to another,” Greenwald added.

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