This week in Things I Wish I Knew, Joleena Louis wonders how much client accessibility is too much for solo attorneys. Hint: You probably already know.
As solo attorneys and small firms, customer service is very important to keeping our clients happy and getting referrals. In fact, it is often the high level of customer service that a solo attorney can provide that is a major factor in why clients choose to retain our services over larger law firms. (And, rightfully so!)
After speaking with a colleague who sits on the Disciplinary Committee, I learned that the majority of grievance complaints against solo attorneys center around failing to return calls and regularly communicate with their clients.
As a general rule, I make it a point to make myself as accessible as possible to my clients.
But can you ever be too accessible your clients?
For me, and hopefully for you, the answer is yes.
One of the benefits of being my own boss is that I don’t necessarily have any set work hours. This gives me the freedom to have a lunch date with my husband on a random Tuesday afternoon. It also means it’s not unusual for me to be working on a file at 10pm on a Saturday night.
This also means that I would send emails to clients and upload documents to my client portal at that hour. It doesn’t take the sharpest client to deduce that if I was sending emails and uploading documents on a Saturday night, it probably meant that I was working. And that’s where the problems began.
If you give a client an inch, they will probably take a mile.
Shortly, I began to receive texts, emails and phone calls late into the evenings and during weekends. As a self-enforced policy, I typically return calls and emails within a few hours, so my clients begin to expect that no matter what time or day they called.
For example, I had a client call my office on a Saturday morning. This client was profoundly upset that I didn’t return her call until Monday morning.
Over-accessibility was not a huge issue when I only had a couple of clients. I had the time and more importantly, the bandwidth to ensure my availability at a moments notice. But as my practice continues to grow, it became more of a problem.
For solo attorneys, accessibility often limits your work/life balance.
This unlimited access made my work bleed into my “free” time and frankly began to stress me out. I was so worried about making my clients happy that I put my happiness (and need for a break from work) on the backburner. Something had to give.
So, a few weeks ago I sent all my clients an email reiterating my defined office hours and letting them know that absent an emergency, I would respond to all communications the next business day.
Unless it is truly urgent, I no longer send emails outside of office hours. I found a Gmail extension called mxHero that allows me to draft emails and schedule them to be sent at a certain time. And I know that certain clients typically have issues over the weekends, so I will always connect with them Friday afternoon to deal with any issues preemptively.
I still work over the weekends, but I no longer allow unfettered access to my personal time. Not only is my husband happier, but I am less stressed when I return to the office.
Want to learn more about how to maximize time for your firm (and your life)?
Get our eBook: “7 Steps to Running a Successful Home-Based Law Practice”
Joleena Louis is a matrimonial and family law attorney at Joleena Louis Law, a ﬁrm she founded after leaving a boutique matrimonial ﬁrm in Brooklyn. Joleena is a client in Law Firm Suites’ start-up program in Downtown, New York. Her weekly blog series Things I Wish I Knew… explores her thought process and experiences in her transition from small law ﬁrm employee to successful solo practice entrepreneur.