Let’s face it, deciding on an attorney when seeking legal services for you, your family or your business can be confusing. After all, it’s not like lawyers are hard to find. Some would even say they grow on trees. Heck, these days it’s even possible to enter some information on a do-it-yourself legal website, click a button, and legal documents will be automatically produced for you, ready to be printed and signed – without even having to speak with an attorney! (Of course, that’s assuming you’ve done your homework and have an idea which documents you actually need.)
But if you’re someone who understands that sometimes knowledge is more valuable than a fill-in-the-blank web form, there are many considerations to take into account when selecting an attorney: background, competence, accessibility, experience, location, rates and fees, comfort level, etc.
Customer Service and Goodwill are important factors
To be frank, even though I am a lawyer, my own experience with lawyers is quite limited. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times I have needed the services of an attorney. Yet even in my limited experience as a legal client, two of those experiences stand out as good and bad examples of the importance of customer service in the attorney-client relationship.
A bad experience can leave a lasting impression
The bad example came a few months after I bought my first house (actually, a townhouse). I was a 27-year-old computer programmer at the time, and had very little knowledge of how escrow accounts worked. The closing attorney was referred to me by a family member. He seemed nice enough at the time, and the closing itself went smoothly. But when I reached out to him with a question three or four months later, he spoke to me in a flustered and impatient tone that I can still remember to this day. I can still hear his brusque reply to my question about real estate taxes: “Sir, the money is in escrow.”
Looking back, I fully admit that I was confused about how my real estate taxes would be paid from my mortgage escrow account. And maybe it’s not common for real estate buyers to follow up with the closing attorney if they have a question or two later on down the line. But was it really that much of an inconvenience for him to provide information to me in a way that didn’t leave me feeling like I was accusing him of some kind of omission or taking up too much of his precious time? I may not have appreciated it at the time, but customer service can be a pretty powerful influence on how consumers navigate the marketplace when deciding on service providers – including attorneys.
Of course, this was almost 15 years ago. The legal landscape looked much different 15 years ago than it does today. Between the slow economy and the technological advancements that have made legal services more accessible to legal consumers, it’s not as easy for certain professionals to exhibit a perceived contempt for those asking “stupid” questions. Needless to say, I have never referred anyone to that attorney, and never sought out his services again.
A good experience is a valuable reward
In contrast, when my wife and I were in the market for an estate planning attorney in Rhode Island last summer, one of the most important qualities we were looking for was relatability. With so many individuals and firms offering the type of legal services we needed, our screening process became much more focused on who was not only competent to provide such services, but who would we feel most comfortable sharing the details of our personal and financial lives? As new parents, obviously our most important considerations revolved around how to protect our children.
At any rate, the attorney we ended up choosing was knowledgeable, but she was also personable. Every interaction we had with her was pleasant; she answered all of our questions thoroughly, respectfully, and with a genuine level of kindness that we truly appreciated. And unlike my own experience 15 years earlier, I have already referred some of my acquaintances to her, and would gladly do so in the future.
Deciding on an attorney can come down to a personal connection
So don’t discount the importance of good customer service and a personal connection when deciding on an attorney. While those qualities might not be that important in every situation (high stakes corporate mergers and criminal defense come to mind), they should certainly play a role in other, more family-oriented legal matters.
Legal clients deserve nothing less than quality services performed by a competent attorney who values the importance of the customer experience.