Over the course of legal representation, a law firm has many opportunities to obtain information from the client that may help the firm improve its service to that client and to others, and to identify potential problems before a crisis or conflict arises. These questions are meant to give a sense of how information provided by clients can be used to improve a legal practice.
The idea is not to quiz or poll clients, and much of this information can be obtained through conversation, something that may be more comfortable for both parties than direct question-and-answer or a survey.
Questions that you may pose to a client during an intake interview or early in your representation include:
How did you find out about us?
If you don't track your referrals you will miss the opportunity to figure out your best referral sources, and will not be able to look for referral sources or marketing strategies similar to those that are referring your best cases, and will neglect to thank people who refer cases to you.
What do you want us to achieve for you?
It's easy to make assumptions about a client's wants and expectations, but sometimes the client is looking for more than a specific legal outcome.
Sometimes the client is seeking vindication, an apology, emotional satisfaction, or other relief that the legal system is ill-prepared to provide.
Your understanding of the client's expectations allows you to educate the client about the limits of the legal system, and to form a case strategy that is most likely to achieve the outcome that the client desires.
What is your budget for this case?
Unless you're working on contingency, your client will be paying you either a negotiated flat fee or an hourly rate.
You need to be certain that your client understands the likely cost of representation and has budgeted for that cost, as well as what factors might cause the cost to increase, lest you find yourself dealing with an angry client who believes you are overbilling or were misleading about the cost of litigation.
As the case progresses, the following questions can help you clarify your client's expectations and avoid or correct problems and misunderstandings:
Are we doing what you wanted us to do?
Does your client feel like you are providing the expected legal services in the expected manner?
Are we doing something that you would like us to stop doing?
The answer to this type of inquiry may be highly subjective. Some clients want a lot of hand-holding. Some might resent frequent contacts and infer that you're trying to run up their bills.
Even if the client's answer is specific to the client's personality or case, the answer should help you improve your relationship with that client,
Are our bills clear and understandable?
If your client does not understand your bills or how they are calculated, you are setting yourself up for a later conflict over the cost of your services.
Do you believe that you are getting value for your money?
A great deal of legal work involves activities that are all-but-invisible to the client. If you learn that your client is starting to doubt the value of your services, you can educate the client about the work you have performed, its necessity and the value it brings to the case.
Are we devoting enough time to your case?
If your client feels that you are neglecting the case, by opening a discussion you create an opportunity to explain why that is not actually the case.
For example, litigation often involves periods in which nothing much happens followed by period of frenzied activity. In other cases, a client's concerns may be addressed by simply providing the client with more frequent updates about the services you are providing.
If your client feels both neglected and overbilled, you may re-examine the client's priorities and whether the client has a realistic understanding of what is involved in your provision of legal services.
How might we improve our service?
Sometimes a client will have an idea that will help you provide better service for the client's own case, and there's always a chance that the client will share an insight that can help you improve your firm.
After you conclude your representation of a client, the following questions can help you understand your client's impressions of your work, may allow you to resolve problems with the client's perception of your work, and may help cultivate the client as a referral source:
Did we treat you with care and courtesy?
By the end of your representation you should have a pretty good sense of your own relationship with the client, but you may benefit from learning about problems your client may have encountered with members of your staff.
Were we responsive to your inquiries?
Looking back at the case, does the client feel that you were timely and responsive, or do they have a feeling that they were neglected?
What is the greatest benefit you obtained through our representation of you?
Most of the time the answer is going to be pretty obvious, but sometimes you may be surprised by a client who finds more value in something peripheral to the outcome of the case than with the outcome itself.
For example, the client may feel that the most important aspect of their case is that they finally got the opportunity to tell their side of the story.
What did we do that we should have done better?
It's a broad question, but you may get a surprising insight into your firm and services.
Would you recommend us to others?
Did you turn your client into a potential referral source?
Don't get argumentative or defensive if a client says "no", but think about why: what might you have done differently to make this client comfortable enough with your services to recommend you to others, and how can you apply that information to improve your relationships with your other clients.