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September 11, 2008

Performance reviews: "If you can't steal our clients, you're fired."


At your shop, is "Client Service" just drinks-and-dinner b.s. for the clients, and website-and-brochure lip service for the public? Or is it real?

Associate Reviews: "Dude, if you can't steal our clients, you're fired." (Yes, we're serious.) From a 2006 post:

There are lots of suggestions out there on standards, guidelines and take-aways for associate reviews. Two are (a) letting staff evaluate co-workers and partners on specific inter-office skills in writing, and (b) reviews of staff based on specific client service standards which ALL employees must buy into (i.e., pay increase for well done client service; hit the road, for the unwilling, clueless).

Here's another one--and it's been my firm's for over ten years. But first, expand your mind for a brief moment and pretend that you're NOT another risk averse lawyer, accountant, MD, broker, consultant, salesperson, retail clerk, Alaskan fly-fishing guide, or other generic weenie service-provider, that you are passionate about what you do, that you love your clients and customers, and that you want more of that business and income stream.


Every day, the client service by associates and paralegals should be good enough to permit those employees to actually steal any client, and take them to another law firm (use "transport" for "steal" if you need the PC professional services term), if they were to leave your shop tomorrow morning.


Fact: that's what we want at our firm, and that's what we tell associates.

If you are not, in effect, willing to go that far with your own employees in instituting and daily demanding client service, you are neither confident about client loyalty (not to mention employee loyalty) nor really serious about delivering superior client service to your clients. And your employees aren't in the game; they are not engaged in the work for clients, they are not stepping up. A true client service culture has to be that "extreme". So let "them that can" whisk those clients out of your firm with a phone call or two; after all, that's only fair to the clients, if they so decide. If you find this idea preposterous, radical or just too disturbing, please think very hard about what you are really doing at your firm, and your real commitment, to build and lead a true client service culture.

At your shop, is "client service" just drinks-and-dinner b.s. for the clients, and website-and-brochure lip service for the public? Or is it real?

Posted by JD Hull at September 11, 2008 09:59 PM


This is a major challenge for partners and higher ups who may be stuck should a client ever leave or too lazy to farm other client contacts. This is one of those principles that works well in theory, but not in practice.

Posted by: jt at September 11, 2008 08:20 AM

Well, good point--but, come to think of it (and I hadn't) lots of ambitious associates do start firms that way. But the goal is simply having a high standard and keeping associates (and even paralegals) in the mainstream of the work. Let's not get too literal.

I will do almost anything to get associates excited and jazzed up. Anything. There has been a "tentativeness" recently; we've seen it in new people for about 10 years. So we started saying that to them. Yeah, steal our clients. I will gladly take that risk--but I think it's just a way to look at things.

1. Associates must step up and take responsibility for the work. That's what we really pay for. At HM we require that on first day; the better people have client contact very early, too. (It's pressure for some but at least no one is bored.)

2. At the same time, partners and senior lawyers can't have it both ways, either. Partners must have the stomach and the vision to get young lawyers in the mainstream of the work--and very early on--with clients as main event. And if a younger lawyer isn't ready, you keep them the hell away from the client for the time being.

But, again, the main point is the standard.

Posted by: Dan Hull at September 11, 2008 10:23 AM

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