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New associates should remember the first rule of business development: It is easier to keep a current client happy and to expand the business you provide that client than it is to attract a new client. Despite this fact, every day many associates (and even some partners) engage in behaviors that result in their losing their clients. While some of these examples may seem outrageous, many in-house counsel and other clients of law firms have witnessed each of these behaviors at some point. Here’s a day-by-day guide to losing a client in 10 days. Day 1: Today I kept the client waiting for a long time — a really long time — as I left our meeting to make copies of a document that should have been finalized and copied long before our meeting started. I wasn’t too concerned about it until he started ranting and raving about how valuable his time was. Day 2: When I spoke with the client on the phone today, he was complaining about his workload. I wanted to be sympathetic so I shared with him how busy I was. I told him, “You should see the piles of work on my desk from other clients. I don’t know how I’m going to get it all done.” Not only did he not want to hear my complaining, I’m sure I shattered his confidence in my ability to complete his brief on time in light of all the other stuff that’s on my plate. Day 3: Why use a two-syllable word when a four-syllable word will do — especially if that word’s in Latin? Today I tried to impress the client with my mastery of legal jargon. The only trouble was, he had no idea what I was talking about. Day 4: I received five frantic-sounding voice mails from my client today. He wanted my immediate help on something that was really more of a business decision than a legal issue. Unfortunately, I was tied up in a hearing and didn’t have time to call him back. Nor did I have my secretary call him back to let him know when I would be available. Not only did I fail to follow up with him in a timely manner, but I also failed to let him know when he would hear from me. Even though the issue sorted itself out, he was smoldering by the time I got back in touch. Day 5: Today we got a bad result in a case I was working on. I didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news, so I was slow to call the client. Unfortunately, I got “scooped” by the local paper, and my client was blindsided when a reporter contacted him about the case. Day 6: I didn’t do my homework today. I received a message from the client about a matter he had asked me to research a week ago. Rather than taking a few minutes to prepare myself before I picked up the phone, I called him back as soon as I received his message, figuring that after my mistakes on Day 1, promptness was the most important thing. Day 7: Wow, did I underestimate how important it is to know my client’s business. Today, I attended an on-site meeting in the client’s office. While in the bathroom, I said “Hello” to another gentleman and asked him who he was. He responded, “Paul Jones.” I guess the name should have meant something to me, but it didn’t. I went on to ask him what he does for the company, and he said, “I’m the CEO.” He might as well have added “you idiot” at the end of his sentence! Day 8: Today the client called me to question a charge on his bill. I guess he was unhappy with the fact that he spent an hour educating me on issues relating to the technology his company uses to provide telephone service, and I billed him for that time. It never occurred to me that that was a no-no! Day 9: Boy, am I on a roll. Last week I forwarded the client an exhaustive discovery request along with the due date for the responses (which is actually today!). What I failed to do, however, was to provide a summary of the information I needed, the format I needed it in, and the deadline by which I needed to receive it so that I could file a response with the court. Instead I left him to slog through a 20-page document and figure it out for himself. I didn’t follow up with him to confirm he received the document. Nor did I call him to map out a strategy for responding or to clarify what I needed. Day 10: Today was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I committed a pretty big faux pas. I have some discovery responses that are due tomorrow. Based on past experience, I went directly to the person within the company I thought would have the answers. I did not, however, consult directly with my client first. As it turns out, the person I spoke with knew nothing about these discovery requests and was livid that he had not been brought into the loop sooner. Without meaning to, I made my client look bad in the eyes of his co-workers. His response? In the words of Donald Trump, “You’re fired.” CLIENT SATISFACTION So what, then, is an eager associate to do to keep a client satisfied? Here are some good rules for any lawyer. 1. Never make a client feel as if your time is more important than his. 2. Treat the client as if he is your most important client. 3. Avoid jargon. Instead use the general business language your client is accustomed to hearing. 4. When you are unavailable for a long period of time, manage a client’s expectations by having your secretary call the client to let him know when he can expect a return phone call. 5. Keep the client informed of both good and bad news on a timely basis. 6. Prepare ahead for a call or meeting with a client by anticipating his questions and having the answers ready, rather than having to follow up again later. 7. Know the names of key people with whom your client interacts regularly in his company, at both the executive and support-staff levels. 8. Familiarize yourself with the client’s business, the technology used in the field, the client’s major competitors, and its largest customers. Better yet, schedule a tour or frequent visits with your client so you know more about the business itself in addition to the players. 9. When requesting information from a client, provide a concise list of exactly what you need, with clear deadlines and accountabilities. 10. Understand the culture and politics within the client’s company, and establish guidelines for when you can approach employees directly and when the client would prefer to act as a filter.
Jennifer J. Marrapese is president of Marrapese Associates, a Providence, R.I.-based coaching and consulting firm for law firms.

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