The Mad Clientist: How many true emergency, ‘I need help right now,’ phone calls does your firm get in a year? 1, 2, 5?
Law Firm Leader: There are at least a dozen I can name off the top of my head…maybe 15.
The Mad Clientist: So, once a month?
Law Firm Leader: Yes, definitely, if not more.
The Mad Clientist: How much do these crisis calls generate in fees?
Law Firm Leader: It depends. Some are not really crises so they don’t generate much, but about half become multi-hundred thousand dollar billings, and at least one or two become multimillion dollar fees.
We all want the juicy bet-the-company work. We savor the challenge, the prestige, and the opportunity to make an impact—and a profit. But are we prepared to get the work? I know you have the resources and the talent, but are you prepared for when you get the call? Yes—the actual call for help.
Clients have 2 kinds of bet-the-company work—the planned and known (think enterprise merger) and the crisis. The crisis bet-the-company work will come in by phone. No emails or lunch to plan the work. Crisis work happens in real time.
When clients—even your longstanding ones—are in urgent, crisis mode, how many unanswered calls will they accept before they move on to someone else? 10? 5? 2?
The answer is zero.
If you can’t be reached, or your highly-informed assistant can’t track you down, your client moves on. An urgent need is about getting answers now. The client will leave you in the dust while they seek out someone who can immediately start providing the guidance they need.
Every time your phone rings think about your most important client sitting in her office with her CEO waiting to hear your confident voice on the other end of the line. She trusts you and is looking for your timely urgent counsel. The reality is, if your client doesn’t hear you or your assistant—an actual live person—pick up, she’ll keep dialing to her next favorite partner.
Some firms have come to see phone coverage as an expense and even a disruption. Calls are answered with voicemails lacking specificity as to a when the message might be heard, or by assistants who are twice removed from the partner. The point is many firms are placing distance between the phones and partners.
Which multimillion dollar matter are you willing to sacrifice because picking up the phone is disruptive to your current work?
Given the stakes, there should be a virtual death match erupting to answer the phone first.
But, beware. How you answer the phone also matters. Anyone answering phones needs to be armed with the right information.
- The whereabouts of the partner being sought
- Timing on how soon the partner will return the call
- An alternate contact number, if appropriate, for the client
- A secondary—even tertiary—contact for the client to speak with if immediate counsel is needed
Even when a call is not urgent and merely important, the downside is you’ve delivered excellent client service and instituted a culture trained to think about how to help clients at the very first client touch point.