Essential Rules for Excellence in Client Service

The following is what I firmly believe to be the Rules For Excellent Client Service, specifically relating to a Criminal Defense Law Firm, and the best manner with which to conduct its practice. A lot of these concepts were covered in an article I co-wrote when giving advice to young criminal defense attorneys, which is located here: TCDLA ADVICE TO YOUNG LAWYERS.

The Rules are as follows, in no particular order:

1. Always have GREAT RAPPORT with the clients you represent.

2. Keep all communication lines open with all clients, which would include, but may not be limited to, the following:

  • Always return client phone calls, e-mails, and/or text messages within a reasonable period of time;
  • Always keep clients informed of court settings, as well in advance as possible, when attendance is mandatory;
  • Always inform clients of any recent update and/or changes relevant to the particular facts or situations pertaining to their case;
  • Always notify clients of any correspondence from any opposing counsel when the situation permits, any relevant plea bargain offers made by the District Attorney assigned to the case, and also any changes, updates, and/or correspondence from possible victims and/or witnesses of a case;
  • Carbon Copy "CC" clients on all relevant e-mails, which would include any relevant information or material reviewed by any member of the law office staff, police/arrest reports made available, and/or notifying them as soon as possible well in advance of any upcoming court settings related to their case.

3.  Always be honest and candid with every client about the facts particular to their legal situation, while always remembering to bear in mind that all cases have different factual scenarios involved.

4.  Remember that it is of the utmost important to NEVER guarantee and/or predict any particular overall outcome when evaluating the nature of any given case, especially when evaluating a possible disposition that may be employed.

5.  Communicate to the client that it is essential for proper representation that they work with us, in conjunction, in relation to helping resolve and achieve the best results possible.

6.  Always remember that the most important way to market the law firm is by delivering outstanding service to current clients.  Gary Trichter (a very successful and nationally known DWI Defense Attorney), of Houston, Texas, I remember once saying when speaking at a DWI seminar I attended awhile back, emphasized that a successful criminal defense practice is built from the ground up, and done by representing one client at a time. He emphasized that if you do your best to deliver excellent and quality service, then successful results will follow. In other words, success breeds success. Successful results for clients will more than likely correlate into repeat business, and consistent work for the firm.

7. Always remember that because every case is different, often results will vary, and expectations may not match the reality of the facts of a case. In light of this, always remember that more than anything, clients usually prefer open, honest, and consistent communication. A lack of communication, coupled with results that may not match their given expectation, very well could lead to negative results in the perception of the client (even if the results would have been the same regardless of the communication between each party).

8. Do not accept and agree to represent every potential client that walks through the door. Remember quality is always preferable over quantity. As well, it is usually easy to ascertain from the outset whether any particular client will be worth the time necessary in handling their legal matter. It is often the case that, even when maximum results are achieved, certain individuals still find reasons to be unsatisfied that can be altogether unrealistic. Therefore, always try your best to judge which clients you want to represent, and those whom you want to be associated with your law firm.

9. Always treat each employee of the firm with the utmost respect, and ALWAYS reward loyalty. A happy and enjoyable work environment will lead to being able to achieve all of the goals set forth as outlined above. Personally, as the leader, manager, and owner, of our law firm - I prefer to have the mindset of working "with" employees, rather than creating the atmosphere that they "work" for me. I truly believe that not one person is bigger, or more valuable, than any other member of a team. If an employee, or any staff member, has a problem with something, or in the way certain things are handled, I always try to encourage everyone to have an open door policy. I am a firm believer that the goals set forth above WILL NOT be achieved if things are handled in an alternative manner, particularly relating to situations where any member of the team does not feel their contributions are as valuable as another. ALL CONTRIBUTION MATTERS - AND EVERY MEMBER OF A LAW FIRM IS A VALUABLE LINK IN A CHAIN. A work environment that conducts in a manner otherwise is not conducive to a healthy and successful law practice that provides excellent service.

10. I always try to remember my personal axiom (which I heard long ago from a source that I now cannot remember) relating to the practice of law as follows:

  • "Late to bed, early rise, work like hell, and advertise."  

Remember that hard work will always pay off, and I am a strong believer it is done by exercising the rules set forth above. Practicing law, especially criminal defense, has to be your passion, and it has to be "more" than just a job. My personal mentor, Jamie Balagia, the DWIDUDE, and others criminal defense attorneys who I hold a deep amount of respect for (some still practice, others not), were all firm believers in advertising (obviously if it is done in an ethical manner, and in reality, the form of which as outlined above with Rule Number 6). However, remember that the best form of advertising, by far, lies within how you treat, interact, and communicate with those whom you currently represent. I also find it to be beneficial in practice, even if not lucrative, to follow up with former clients to just see how they are doing. I find it particularly rewarding if I find out later that they are doing well, and express gratitude towards the hard work we achieved together in helping through whatever difficult situation we faced. There is no better form of advertising than to provide excellent customer service, and I am always extremely pleased when a current and/or past client refers a case to us, or faces in the future another legal situation where they entrust us with representation. All other advertising in the world cannot duplicate the effect of working hard, taking the "Oath of an Attorney" seriously, and from simply putting in a day of good and honest work every single day on the job. 

11. Always remember it is important to make sure clients always feel special. Ensure to the best of your ability to properly communicate exactly how much we appreciate the honor of having them entrust their legal representation with us, whatever their situation may be. I personally have always tried to remember as much as possible about a client, outside of just the ordinary legal aspects of their case. I have always felt that the term "Client" can have a negative connotation, and can often be lost on some of those who practice law. I have seen in the past that it seems often some attorneys seem to forget that the "Client" is also an actual and real person, and not just another case on their docket. Many times the clients we represent have never been through any type of legal situation before, especially if it is a criminal case they have been accused of. It can go a very long way towards having good clients relations when an individual feels they have a legal team that remembers them, takes special care to follow up with the little things, and willingly listens when and if they opt to familiarize to us certain personal things they may divulge about themselves, their families, and/or their legal/personal situations. I firmly believe when a "Client" knows that we perceive them a great deal more than just another individual on our caseload, and fully realize they we sincerely care and empathize with the fact that they are a real person, truly can define the difference between separating one law firm from another, in terms of perceived client service. If you find yourself having a hard time with this, I think it would be time to revisit Rule Number 7 above.

12. Always remember that the law is a constantly evolving profession, regardless of how your the main portion of your practice is comprised. Remaining static, simply put, is the equivalent of fall behind in the legal profession. It is imperative to stay completely up to date on the law to give clients the best representation possible. I take pride, and practice strict diligence, in always trying to select the best "CLE's" (Continuing Legal Education) seminars to attend that I believe will help build a better practice, and therefore provide better service, for the clients we represent. If you are standing still when practicing law, especially if you are practicing criminal law, you are simply only maintaining the status quo.  in this profession, if you are not constantly seeking ways to improve, you will find almost definitely find yourself falling behind.

13. As the son of a football coach, I take great pride in all of the great quotes Vince Lombardi imparted that are still utilized and reverberated by those who revere the precedent he set for achieving success in life. Coach Lombardi took immense pride in being competitive, and demanded excellence from both his players and those on his coaching staff. Many of his quotes are not only in relation to football, but also serve as motivation to anyone who strives to achieve any amount of success, regardless of their chose profession in life. This belief is perhaps best personified when Coach Lombardi was quoted as saying the following:

 14. The quote from Coach Lombardi I perhaps like the best from is perhaps the most simple he gave of all. I believe it to be true regardless of which position you undertake in a law firm (or as he put it in the quotes above, with any endeavor a person willingly undertakes in life). I always try to remember, literally almost every single day, the following quote he gave, because I believe it truly is applicable to everyone who is committed to success, regardless of how they choose to make their way in life: 

15. As the son of a football coach, I take pride in comparing being a criminal defense trial attorney, and the often adversarial nature of representing clients in contested trials and hearings, to what it takes to be a consistent winner on the football field through having a highly competitive spirit and drive. In light of this, to sum it up, Coach Lombardi said it best with his most famous quote, one that any person can identify with, and in my personal opinion, all should know. This quote hangs from a portrait in my office with a picture of Vince Lombardi, perhaps the most inspiring coach that ever lived. If what he says does not inspire, encourage, or motivate an individual to fulfill their potential to the fullest, then perhaps one should take another look at their chosen path in life (LINK FOUND BY CLICKING HERE):

What It Takes to be Number One

"Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that's first place. I have finished second twice in my time at Green Bay, and I don't ever want to finish second again. There is a second place bowl game, but it is a game for losers played by losers. It is and always has been an American zeal to be first in anything we do, and to win, and to win, and to win.

Every time a football player goes to ply his trade he's got to play from the ground up - from the soles of his feet right up to his head. Every inch of him has to play. Some guys play with their heads. That's O.K. You've got to be smart to be number one in any business. But more importantly, you've got to play with your heart, with every fiber of your body. If you're lucky enough to find a guy with a lot of head and a lot of heart, he's never going to come off the field second.

Running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization - an army, a political party or a business. The principles are the same. The object is to win - to beat the other guy. Maybe that sounds hard or cruel. I don't think it is.

It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That's why they are there - to compete. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules - but to win.

And in truth, I've never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn't appreciate the grind, the discipline. There is something in good men that really yearns for discipline and the harsh reality of head to head combat.

I don't say these things because I believe in the 'brute' nature of men or that men must be brutalized to be combative. I believe in God, and I believe in human decency. But I firmly believe that any man's finest hour -- his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear -- is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious."

- Coach Vincent T. Lombardi