The New Normal: Run Your Law Firm Like a Business in 2017 // Part 2: Collaborative Clients

March 22, 2017

Editor’s Note: Jared Correia is a paid guest blogger.

In many ways American culture is facing a “new normal.”  New politics, new perspective, new standards.  In the small law sphere, it’s useful to take stock of what that New Normal means for you.

The ‘do it yourself’ culture represents a significant swath of the recent American experience.  There’s a whole cable network devoted to the topic.  Economic factors have played into the revival of cottage industries; but, it’s also true that anyone can find the answer to just about anything with a quick Google search.  Purchasers of services know more about the services provided than they ever have before; they have more options; they price shop.  Modern business owners have to be able to respond to the new consumer.

Traditionally, lawyers have hated DIY clients like fire.  Lawyers have knowledge of law that they bring to bear.  And, you end up cleaning up mistakes when DIY clients-in-distress finally turn to a lawyer. But, with more independent resources available to them, your small law firm clients probably know more about prosecuting their own cases than they ever have before (even if they don’t know everything); and, that knowledge level increases every year.  It’s not any longer the case that pro bono clients are the only DIY clients, because they have no other choice.  Neither is it so that DIY clients will inevitably use Legal Zoom for forms, or represent themselves entirely.  The truth is that almost every client now working with solo and small firm lawyers brings a little DIY-savvy to the table.  The obvious extension of knowing more about the legal process is that savvy clients want to become more involved in their own cases.

The fact is, DIY clients are likely here to stay.  So, practicing law now means that you can’t just push these clients away, or tamp down their urge to help.  You’ve got to work with them, if you want to keep working.

If you view the practice of law and the role of the lawyer and the client in a traditional way, that’s difficult to arrange.  But, looking at this in a different way allows you to flips the narrative.  What if the DIY client becomes the collaborative client?  What if your empowered client just wants to become more deeply embedded in the process?  What if the collaborative client wants to be a larger part of the solution for her own problem?  If those energies are appropriately directed by the lawyer, those clients can become more involved, more responsive, more active.  They can be proactive parties to the matter, and equal partners in the representation.  This converts the attorney-client relationship to a partnership, and builds a stronger bond between client and lawyer, which can lead to more effective case-related results, as well as better and more consistent referrals to the lawyer moving forward.

DIY clients are intrusive; collaborative clients are thoughtful, passionate and potentially very helpful.  Modern lawyers must activate submerged skill sets, including emotional intelligence, collaborative processes and new technology to better manage relationships with modern consumers.

And this is not just a trend: it’s a revision to the practice of law moving forward. This quick quiz lets you determine your strengths & weaknesses in the “New Normal” practice of law.  How are you measuring up?  In a handful of questions you can level-set your firm, and use that insight as you plan your 2017 business. Good luck!