Don’t Ignore Referability

Last November, my mother received a well-written letter from a law firm offering to represent her in a tax appeal, which might bring about a refund of some of her real estate taxes.  A simple “Attorney Representation Agreement” and a return envelope were enclosed.

My mother, who understandably defers to me on legal matters, asked what she should do.  The firm, we discovered, was relatively large, with several offices in two states, and the attorney who had signed the letter (we’ll call him “Ed Jones”) was a local tax and real estate partner.  The practice of tax appeals, while only one service this firm offered, was an area in which they were highly specialized.  So, I recommended that my mother retain them, and offered to send the Attorney Representation Agreement back to them on her behalf.

By the end of January, nearly two months later, we had yet to receive an acknowledgment that her agreement had been received, so I wrote an email to Attorney Jones inquiring about it.
Jones replied that the agreement had been received and that we would be receiving a follow-up letter shortly.

Two weeks later, in February, Mom at last received a memo from Jones’s firm acknowledging receipt of the ARA.  It was a photocopy of a signed document (with no addressee specified), which advised:

“We will contact you when we have matters of substance to report, such as any meaningful settlement offer from the municipality.”

Last month, having heard nothing from the law firm since that February memo—four months prior—I emailed Ed Jones.  “I know that you promised to contact us if there were matters of substance to report,” I began, “But you would avoid a lot of our nagging if you could spend just thirty seconds giving us an update.”

Two hours later, I received a reply from Jones’s paralegal, telling me that there was a settlement offer.  The offer was actually a good one, which would make my mother very happy and be a huge win for the attorney.  But I would never use that firm myself, and I would never recommend them to anyone else…

Too many attorneys believe that the only important thing to clients is the result, but that is not the case.  Communication—preferably proactive communication—is essential for clients, and its absence will work against the power of a great result.

Maybe Jones figured that most of his clients were elderly and would not have any other work for him, so the effort of great communication wasn’t warranted.  But he’d have been completely ignoring the “referability factor”.  My mom is not likely to have further need for his help, but I refer people to attorneys all the time.  And any elderly resident of Mom’s community who had been dazzled by Jones’s communication—instead of all but ignored—might have told stories about him to neighbors, friends, and children, and encouraged them to seek out his various services.  What are those other services?  We’d know if he had communicated them.

But maybe Ed just didn’t know any better.  Maybe he handled my mother’s case in the most expedient way he knew how.

And maybe it didn’t matter.  After all, there will be countless tax appeals in the coming years.  Why even bother to work on client relationships at all?  Some doctors offices can get away with insensitive—even downright rude—handling of patients because there aren’t enough doctors to go around and regardless, their bills will be paid.

If your business is such that you can ignore true client service, do whatever you want.  If it’s like most service businesses, though, start dazzling your clients with proactive communication, and it won’t be long before you see proactive referrals coming back to you.

If you would like to know what Mr. Jones should have and could have been doing, contact me, and I’ll share my thoughts with you.  In the meantime, keep REACHING…