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In the hectic days of e-mail, cell phones and that ever handy BlackBerry, it’s easy to wonder if there is anyplace left in professional life for the traditional handwritten note. But that’s exactly why some Atlanta attorneys say the nearly lost art enhances the quality of their client relationships. “Personal notes sort of rise above the noise of traffic during your workday,” says Michael E. Hollingsworth II, a partner in the mergers and acquisition practice at Kilpatrick Stockton. “If you send an e-mail thanking someone for one of these more personal type things, that’s easily overlooked or deleted by the recipient, and they may even think to themselves, ‘It’s sort of an impersonal means of sending that message.’” Note writing is a skill that may have been modeled by a firm’s senior members or specifically advised by legal elders. Although her mother taught her to write personal notes in everyday life, Susan H. Richardson, a Kilpatrick Stockton partner in the environment and natural resources practice, says she transferred the habit into professional life after watching senior lawyers at different firms who were “diligent and very disciplined about writing notes to clients.” Aside from the requisite legal skills, Hollingsworth says senior partners developed very large law practices by keeping up with their clients’ lives. “I think as a result they enjoyed the kind of client loyalty that’s very hard to come by today,” he says. The most common occasions on which attorneys say they send notes are the birth of a child, a death in the family, when the client accomplishes an important professional achievement and when the client offers a business referral. Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers partner and workers compensation attorney Kenneth A. David sends a note after first meeting with a client. David keeps a book with information about his clients, such as birthdays and spouses’ and children’s names, and he keeps a calendar on his personal computer to remind him of when those big days are coming up. David, in practice 12 years, says, “It’s been a long time in development; it didn’t start out that way.” And there’s the tricky part of any handwritten note: choosing the right words. Then comes the question of stationary: personal versus the firm’s notecards. Hollingsworth, who uses his own notecards with his name printed on them, says he “hardly ever” sends the first note he writes and spends “a good 20 minutes” on each one. “If I’m trying to make a personal connection, I don’t want the language to be too generic,” Hollingsworth says. “I’m taking the time to write the note, so I’m trying to personalize it and make it meaningful.” David’s approach to coming up with the right words is to picture the client reading the note and thinking of “what’s going to mean something to them.” All said, note writing is a soft skill, and it is difficult to measure its impact on the bottom line. Hollingsworth says the handwritten note is a way to distinguish oneself, and he has seen results as clients who previously spoke about strictly legal matters began opening up about the personal. David has seen his notes on clients’ desks. “That they’ve kept [it] on their desk among all the other stuff that they have that’s work-related” tells him that his efforts are appreciated, he said. But there is a real business strategy for attorneys to offer their thoughts by hand. “It is about the development of a personal relationship,” David says. “If you have a good personal relationship, you’re going to have a better client relationship, and that’s going to be good for business.”

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