The following are a few ideas and concepts that have worked well for my practice.
1) “How can I be supportive?” I developed this question from the time that I spent dealing with German translation work. In German business, the term “unterstützen” translates literally as “support” but has more of a connotation of cooperation on a task or problem than, for example, philosophical, emtional or financial support. One would often read the term as a request, e.g. “we request your support” or “please support the sales division with X.”
It occurred to me that offering to be supportive, rather than “how can I help/assist”, was a more open-ended way of inviting a “human-centered” response from my clients. While I don’t want to be a personal counselor within my attorney role, offering to be “supportive” rather than “to help” allowed the client more room to define how I could be supportive and, I thought, put me at more equal “level” with the client. Being “supportive” gave the client more room to define what was important to her/him, including immediately seizing upon a “problem” or perhaps discussing options, clarifying issues or questions, etc. Asking how I can “help” seems to imply that what is happening is a “problem” rather than an opportunity for clarification, choices, etc.
Maybe this is too small a difference over which to worry but anything that enables a client to be more open with me about a given situation, particularly a complex one, is a good thing. I recall the limited course work in client interviewing at law school and the volunteer work I did at UB for, I think, the ABA in its law student client interviewing competition some years ago. I thought in my earlier years that it was a bunch of wasteful fluff, but it seems a lot more worthwhile subject of focus today. The better the communication, the clearer the ultimate problem or mission is seen, defined and ultimately addressed. Offering to be supportive, and to have the client define what “supportive” means, has helped me many times in the last three years. Please feel free to steal this idea if you think it might be of use to you.
2) Business cards. My business cards have a staid, conservative front and a louder, multi-colored back with my name, email and phone in rather large type. Why? Because many of my clients are older and have increasingly poor eyesight (as do I, it seems of late.) I don’t want my card to be a strain to read for someone seeking to call me. The front shows that I am traditional, but the back shows that I am willing to solve real problems practically. Consider whether a large-type back to your cards would help your practice.
3) Clio practice integration. This is not quite a “small tip” but maybe a medium-sized one. It has been easier to move towards a paperless practice by integrating Dropbox and Clio with my primary office computer. Essentially, Clio creates an envelope for each client matter on Dropbox which then syncs two-way with the Dropbox folder on the computer, so that documents on Clio are available even when there’s no Internet access. Conversely, documents can be loaded into Clio through the Dropbox portal offline. It’s not quite a better mousetrap but it’s a great step forward.
4) Reorganization of retainer agreements. My firm now uses a master template for services agreements with optional pages and a cover/index page with a checklist. This is easier than having multiple forms, in my view. I then print the selected pages into a .pdf document and send that as the services agreement. The form has pages for unemployment appeals, contingent fee agreements, payment plans, etc., as applicable.
5) Emailing clients about news items. This is not original to me but is borrowed from the preeminent Jay Foonberg, Esq., and adapted to the modern era. Mr. Foonberg recommended in “How to Get and Keep Good Clients” (the best $125.00 or so you will ever spend – buy it NOW if you don’t own it) that attorneys send news clippings or advance sheets from relevant cases to their clients. While I don’t do that, I forward useful links to clients regarding news items and do not charge for that time. This act lets clients know that their interests/concerns matter to me. For example, if my client is thinking about selling a bar, I send the client an article about the taxation of gains from the sale of closely held businesses, etc. I do this with attorney allies of my practice as well.
Anyway, these ideas are not earth-shattering but may be of some value to some attorneys and their clients. Good luck to you all.