Avoid These Mistakes Immediately for Your Law Firm’s Growth: A Comprehensive Guide

November 28, 2023
image of people in front of gavel at lawyers office

Example of a lifetime client for a family law office

Let me paint you a picture: consider a doctor who requires your legal expertise for their divorce in 2023. Fast-forward to the next year, and they need your help with a child custody modification. Then, in 2025, they’re remarrying and need your collaboration for a prenuptial agreement. Essentially, they’re leveraging your services for all their crucial legal decisions. And there you have it! A textbook example of a potential lifetime client for a family law firm. This, of course, is just one illustration.  The core principle remains— lifetime clients are those who form ongoing relationships with you.

image of two women attorneys walking together

Example of a lifetime client for a business law office

Moving on, let’s take a business owner as another example. This individual has identified your firm as the legal backbone for their business. From drafting employment contracts to advising on pertinent situations – Is this scenario considered harassment? What’s the best course of action? – you become their go-to legal advisor. Think of your role as a ‘lite’ general counsel, supporting them through the ups and downs of running a business. It’s a heavy responsibility, true, but also an incredible opportunity to nurture a lifetime client.

customer lifetime value for law firm owners

What is a lifetime value for law firm clients

Think about it: the term ‘lifetime value’ is thrown around quite a bit in business. It’s a staple in the private equity and tech sectors and it’s no stranger to the legal field. The lifetime value concept, often condensed to the acronym ‘LTV’, is straightforward yet crucial. It’s not about grasping a client for a one-time transaction, as lucrative as it may be. No, it’s about forging a relationship where your client keeps returning over time, boosting their lifetime value beyond that initial figure, no matter if it was $10 or $1,000,000.

Ever considered why you keep going back to your all-time favorite restaurant? Sure, it might be extravagant, costing you a grand each time, but isn’t it your first preference for those 15 impending anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, or even those quirky divorce parties? Simply put, you’re that restaurant’s lifetime client. The owners know it well, and they ensure each visit you make adds to the lifetime value of their business. As you devour your meal, they’re busy creating an extraordinary experience for you, trusting it’s going to bring you back over and over again.

Using this analogy as a backdrop, I want you to reflect. What draws you back to your favorite eatery? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a ritzy place; it can be a homely pizzeria. Is it the snug location? The quick service? Exceptional food quality? Or, is it simply the timely delivery? Now, here’s the catch: just like you love returning to that specific restaurant, your clients ought to feel the same about your law firm. I want you to dive deep into this narrative and figure out how you can amplify the lifetime value of your clients by making your firm their preferred legal service provider.

What’s the difference between a lifetime legal client and a one-time legal client

It goes without saying, but a lifetime legal client is not your average, once-and-done client. The usual clients will come to you for a single case; a divorce, helping with their T Visa, or perhaps even a high-stakes business merger. This is their sole interaction with you. Once the case is final, they move on, having exhausted their need for your services. That qualifies them as a onetime client, a fleeting professional relationship based on their immediate needs. But alas! They move on, filing you away in their mental Rolodex, unlikely to return.

lawyer with calculator

Why is it so important for law firms to have lifetime clients?

So, ever wondered why it’s so vital to secure those elusive lifetime clients? It’s a topic I ruminate on extensively. Consider it the jewel in the crown of client diversification. Imagine a scenario where all of your clients are the ‘one-and-done’ variety. They use your services once and then vanish forever. That’s a big red flag. You’d be condemning yourself to an endless cycle of client acquisition, and trust me, that’s a hefty toll on your marketing budget. Instead, a balanced client portfolio would be, hypothetically, 15% one-time clients and a healthful 20% lifetime clients. Now I’m not suggesting that you beeline for the goal of a client list composed entirely of lifetime clients, even if you’re a business-focused law firm. Nor am I advocating for only catering to businesses that intend on having you on retainer until the end of time. What I’m putting forth is the crucial need for a diverse client base. You must have a significant percentage of lifetime clients. It lends your practice stability, musters the financial muscle for growth, and covers your overhead. These perennial clients create a robust framework for your operation, and any one-time or repeat clients are cherries on this well-established cake.

This diversification is key.

No law firm should be overwhelmed by one-time or lifetime clients. Remember, the proportion will change depending on your firm’s specializations. Don’t imitate what you see others doing. Customize it to your firm’s unique needs. Now, let’s address the diverse faces of lifetime clients. To illustrate, if you run a business law firm catering to a couple of entrepreneurs, you might see these clients recur with more frequency—maybe monthly or quarterly—something typical of such practices. Contrast this with a family law office.

For instance, you might engage with a physician on a divorce case in 2023, a modification in 2024, and a prenuptial agreement in 2025. It’s a different scale altogether. Similar variability can be expected in an immigration practice. You could facilitate a client’s citizenship in 2023, then help them sponsor their spouse in 2025, and later assist in sponsoring the partner’s children a few years down the line.

These examples reveal the spectrum of possibility within the lifetime client type. It doesn’t necessitate an annual or bi-monthly engagement. The definitional parameters of ‘lifetime’ change with your practice area. But these practical examples should help clarify what ‘lifetime client’ entails for your particular.

What’s the difference between a lifetime client and a lifetime referral partner?

If you’re like me, you value, respect, and work passionately for all of your clients. But there’s a special category out there that I affectionately call ‘lifetime referral partners’. As a legal eagle, you should never undervalue the power of a lifetime referral partner. Here’s an illustration to help you see what I’m talking about. Let’s paint a scenario where you’ve brilliantly handled an immigration case for a client. They’re over the moon with your services and the speed at which you handled their H-1B application. Now, they are happily waving your flag, singing your praises to their office mates, their human resources department, friends who are also in need of H-1B expertise, and even family members who may require a different type of sponsorship. Can you see the beautiful picture I’m painting here? This ecstatic client you served superbly has transformed into an extended arm of your marketing apparatus. They have, in essence, metamorphosed into a lifetime referral partner.

How can law firm owners identify potential lifetime clients?

Talking about identifying lifetime clients, you, as a law firm owner, might be thinking about how do you distinguish them. Essentially, a delightful interaction could be a significant hint. Has the client always paid you promptly without causing any inconvenience to your staff? Have they been cooperative and responsive without any upsetting phone calls or emails demanding immediate attention? If the answers have been in the affirmative, you might be looking at your potential lifetime client right there.

Those with an unpleasant experience might be less inclined to come back. So it isn’t just about whether or not they have paid you; the key is whether they have paid you on time and if the overall experience was positive. We’re not talking about clients that necessitate multiple reminders to pay your fees. No. We are talking about those who honor their commitments and make prompt payments. That’s your prospective lifetime client right there.

the plant grew in the ground, which is held by human hands

How can law firm owners develop a relationship with lifetime clients?

So you’ve successfully identified your lifetime client. They’ve been a pleasure to work with – paying on time and being genuinely respectful. But, where do you go from here? How do you cultivate this relationship? It boils down to fostering trust, consistent communication, and maintaining a high level of quality in your services. Consistency, in particular, plays an important role when it comes to developing relationships with clients.

But what does consistency mean in this context? Here’s a common mistake: If you sometimes answer client inquiries within 24 hours, other times in three days, and occasionally only after a week or so, you’re not demonstrating consistent quality. Clients crave predictability. They want to be assured their concerns will be answered promptly every time they reach out.

Similarly, consider the experience you provide with your team. Consistency is key here too. If at one moment, a client is engaging with an experienced paralegal, and then next, they’re suddenly dealing with a newcomer, it disrupts the trust-building process. It’s as if they’re being passed around rather than being cared for. That’s why I caution, particularly women-owned law firms, against expanding too rapidly. We need to deeply value our relationships with clients, nurturing them over time rather than focusing on immediate growth.

When a client feels like they are being shuffled around, it creates a sense of unease. Take a second to think about your favorite restaurant – the one you’ve been regular for years. There’s a unique warmth and familiarity there, right? You know the menu, the staff, the quality of the food. You trust them. This is how your clients should feel with the service you provide. Focus on consistency and quality, and you will nurture lifetime clients who not only stay with you but also become a source of valuable referrals.

How to nurture clients to become lifetime clients for your law firm

Are you curious about how best to keep your clients engaged? Not just with your services but emotionally with your practice as well? Well, it’s all in the details. Around the holiday season, consider incorporating gifting into your strategy. I devoted a whole episode to this topic. Why? Because it’s essential! In my experience assisting clients in setting up the automation process of their law firm, gifting is a non-negotiable. Picture this scenario: a client signs up, they’ve formalized the contract, they’ve paid – and then, presto, they receive a gift from you. Not only does it happen seamlessly, it comes as a genuinely delightful surprise for them. Often, lawyers assume their teams can manage this. But we all know how hectic things can be, right? The team might forget and then your brilliant gifting strategy falls apart. Let’s prevent such mishaps and keep the gifting magic alive, shall we?

Beyond gifting, have you ever thought about organizing client appreciation events? A game-changer, let me tell you. Clients feel a sense of belonging, a deeper connection with you. Believe me, it makes a big difference. However, I can hear the gears in your brain turning, “What if my clients are all over the country, or even abroad?” No worries! Even though in-person events might not be feasible, there are alternative ways to show appreciation. Consider personalized gifts, frequent check-in calls, asking “How is life treating you?” and “Is there anywhere you’re finding yourself stuck at the moment?” These small gestures go a long way to build trust and loyalty, making them want to stick with you.

No doubt, identifying and nurturing lifetime clients can be challenging, especially if this is a new concept for you. But viewing your client relations through this lens can be a game-changer.

Challenges law firm owners may face when dealing with lifetime or high-value clients

One of the challenges you may face is delegating your work to another attorney or paralegal. To put it bluntly, they might muck it up. They might make errors that sour the client’s experience and make them reconsider working with you and your team. Perhaps they were promised a certain level of service, and, after the handoff, that service diminishes. This could be as simple as a new paralegal making mistakes when spelling the client’s name and address, I kid you not. A personal anecdote here: once, in my dealings with a business attorney, in the contract, the business name was spelled wrongly and the address was incorrect. You know what happened next? I never dealt with that attorney again. That was a deal breaker.

Now, the irony of it all was that it wasn’t the attorney at fault, but someone else to whom they had handed off the contract. I discovered this when I checked the edits in Microsoft Word – the initials weren’t a match. Lesson learned the hard way, right? What I want to impress upon you is this: when you delegate, be cautious. Make sure your assistant or paralegal has not just the technical skills but also people skills.

I’ve often noticed that law firms give importance to skills but skim over the softer attributes or EQ of the individual. If you practice in areas such as immigration, family law, or estate planning, you need someone who can handle delicate matters with tact, not come off as brash or curt. Because guess what? When this happens, your prospective lifetime client suddenly becomes a former client. So hiring the right people is pivotal in making clients lifetime clients.

If a law firm owner decides on hiring the inexpensive route instead of prioritizing skills and character traits, they’ll likely face more such situations of client dissatisfaction. So, as you hand off clients and tasks to your team, pay attention to who’s representing you, because their actions reflect on you as well. They should at least embody your firm’s standards, if not exceed them. Yes, it’s your practice, your law firm, but they have to do their fair share. And if they don’t, there’s your lifetime client slipping right out of your hands.

How do law firm owners increase fees for lifetime clients without feeling scared or worried?

Let’s address a common sticking point that arises with lifetime clients—raising your rates. It’s a scenario you’ve told me about time and again. You have a client who’s been with you since 2022, and you’re apprehensive about adjusting their fees for 2024. You’re worried about upsetting a valuable, long-term client. I get it. But remember this: your rates need to reflect the value you provide, and that value inevitably increases over time. How do you navigate this delicate situation? I suggest a considerate, transparent approach.

It could be as simple as drafting a formal letter detailing the upcoming change. State the facts—prices are going up across the board in 2024. But to demonstrate your appreciation for their loyalty, offer them some leniency. Maybe the new rate kicks in from June 2024, or the first 10 hours will be billed at the previous rate. This gives them time to adjust and re-affirms your commitment to them.

Let me reassure you, lifetime clients won’t abandon ship over a reasonable rate increase. They’re with you because they trust you, not because you’re the cheapest option. If they do leave over a small increase, were they truly a lifetime client? Doubtful. Your ideal lifetime client is someone who grows alongside you. Their needs will expand, requiring more of your time, and they should understand and value this.

Another important point to remember is that the value you bring isn’t just your expertise. It’s also about access. As a lifetime client, they are getting priority access to your services—not 24/7, but a guarantee of a prompt response.

Here’s a tip from my own practice. Emails from my VIP clients go to a separate inbox. These messages take priority. Lifetime clients deserve an assurance that their needs will be met promptly. As you raise your rates, make sure they understand the benefits they’re receiving in return.

Lifetime clients did not sign up for a lifetime price— they signed up because of the value your firm offers. So, as your firm grows and evolves, it’s only logical for them to adapt to its growth. Don’t let fear hold you back from increasing your rates.

How do law firm owners prioritize their lifetime clients over other responsibilities in their law firm?

In the busy realm of law, a significant hurdle you may encounter is the lack of time. It’s a scramble, isn’t it? Juggling all these clients and figuring out how to prioritize them over others can feel overwhelming. But bear in mind, there’s a balance to be struck within your firm. Overload yourself with clients, and you risk burnout. But resorting to hiring more staff isn’t the solution either. Instead, consider adjusting your rates and monitor who stays in the game. However, if you find yourself at the point of saying, “I don’t have time for my lifetime clients,” it’s time to pause and reassess.

Let’s think about it, shall we? You’re reluctant to dedicate time to a client paying $50,000, yet you’re willing to spend time on a $200 consultation? That logic seems flawed, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, I’ve seen this scenario play out with lawyers too often. They pass off their valuable clients to less experienced paralegals and attorneys. I’m not suggesting these individuals are inadequate, merely that they might not have the same breadth and depth of experience that you do. The end result? Your lifetime client leaves, baffled by the subpar service your office provided. And believe me, that loss comes back to bite you.

You need to allocate time to nurture relationships with these lifetime clients as they continue to work with you. It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? Simply pawning them off isn’t going to cut it.

How do business law firm owners get lifetime clients?

Alright, let’s delve into the heart of the matter – acquiring these lifetime clients. How do you do it? Specifically aimed at the business law firm owners out there, we need to rethink your approach. You’re not an on-demand Uber service. What do I mean by that? Well, business law firm owners, you’re infamous for working with clients on singular instances – one contract, one company formation, or just one event. Stop right there. Let’s take a pause and think. If they just set up a new enterprise, what happens next? There’s a whole raft of opportunities where they’d need an attorney – be it for lease agreements, supplier agreements or contractor agreements. You’re not just an on-demand service who is called upon only when there’s a fire to fight. Ditch that idea.

Start thinking of yourself as a light version of a General Counsel (GC). You have a wealth of services to offer to this entrepreneur, who has already demonstrated that he’s comfortable with your advice, fees, and overall conduct. Now, he’s got a business – possibly a medical practice. So, you step up and tell them – “Hey, I can be there with you at every stage of your practice. How about we kick things off with an employment agreement? Here’s my fee. I may not be the cheapest, but my work can help avoid in the range of $30,000 to $50,000 in potential complaints and future complications. Sounds good?” Chances are, they’re going to jump at the opportunity. Shelling out a few thousand now to avoid hefty payments later? It’s a no-brainer.

Once that’s sealed, you create another opportunity – “Would you like to have me review your HIPAA privacy policy?” I bet you, they’ll be more than happy to keep their bases covered. Here’s the point – you need to step out of the waiting game and start proactively offering your services. Think: GC lite. Embed that in your brain. Okay?

How do immigration law firm owners get lifetime clients?

So, how exactly does one attract lifetime clients when running an immigration law practice? Immigration law is a tricky dance – so many moving parts are beyond your influence. You can’t commandeer how swiftly a client provides you with necessary documents. You can’t expedite the immigration office’s processing time. You have no say on the pace of decision-making. Immigration cases can stretch on for 3, 5, or even 10 years; familiar turf if you’re in the business – these lengthy timelines are par for the course.

Yet, your role is clear – excel in areas within your reach, those aspects of client service you can control in your office. If a client meeting is scheduled, ensure its confirmation. Make it as foolproof as possible – they should know where to go, when to be there. Once they arrive, your team, your friendly receptionist should welcome them like a highly anticipated guest. It should be, “Hi Mr. Jasani, we’ve been expecting you – great to see you today!,” not, “Alright, just hold on a sec, we’ll be with you momentarily“. Make it a personalized, special experience, every time.

Clients need to feel valued, seen, attended to. They need to believe that your entire operation exists just to serve them. All right, all right, we know that might be little hyperbolic, but here’s the thing – it’s how clients should feel. And technology can play a helpful hand there. Slick tools like Calendly can amplify this personalized touch, make them feel like you’ve got your eyes fixed on their case.

In ideal situations, your team should be proactively communicating with the client; the client shouldn’t be left to wonder, “Hey, what’s up with my case?” Send them periodic updates via email, text messages. A simple line like, “Hi, this is John from the Jasani Immigration Office. Just wanted to let you know there’s no update on your case yet, but we’re vigilantly watching over it. If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out,” can go miles.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Jeez, wouldn’t that result in a barrage of incoming calls?” Hear me out – it all boils down to good communication. Add a line clarifying no immediate action needed from the client’s end, in the language they understand. Trust me, it’ll stop more phone calls from flooding in than causing a floodgate of inquiries- because you’re informing them about what to do next in that text message or email.

estate planning document

How do estate planning law firm owners get lifetime clients?

Let’s delve into estate planning. Primarily, the most crucial aspect of estate planning is asking a plethora of questions. Dig into every detail – property details, names and ages of the kids, selection of the executor, and so on. Yet, the pivotal query is often missed – the future-focused or business development question. For instance, ask if other family members – those mentioned in the will – have their own wills. This proactivity is what brings in future clients and referrals to your law firm. Waiting for a divine intervention where people suddenly decide to get their wills ready may not be an effective strategy. Nor is banking on referrals from insurance agents, CPAs, or financial planners. Active business seeking instead of passive waiting can yield more lifetime referral partners than you can imagine.

Your team could then adopt a simple mantra: ensure that everyone mentioned in an estate planning document also has a will. Propose a collaborative discount to entice families to work together. Numerous ways exist to facilitate this. One could be discussing this during your meetings and providing them your contact information for further extension. Alternatively, drafting an introductory email on behalf of your clients to send to their relatives might also work well. It could run along the lines of, “Greetings! We’ve had the privilege of assisting your sibling with their estate planning. We’d be delighted to extend the same service to you. Schedule a consult with us to ensure your future is secure.”

Bottom line: Actively seek business rather than waiting for it to come to you, and the result?

Lifelong clients just start to happen. The takeaway? Stop waiting! Go out there and grab the opportunities for yourself. Implement this action plan and watch as your client base transforms.

Your job as a law firm owner is to think about who your lifetime clients are

If I could ask you to do just one thing, what would it be? Right now, take a moment, either mentally or on a device—try to avoid pen and paper as those can easily go astray—and pinpoint your recurring clients. How many are there? Four? Seven? Ten? You wouldn’t know until you sit down and compile your list. These people, who have chosen to work with you multiple times, are they not the key players of your business? Think about it.

Now, challenge yourself a little more. Do you know who introduced these lifetime clients to your business? Marking an imaginary instance, say you’ve worked with a certain Star Jones four times since 2018. Do you remember who referred Star to you? This simple exercise is quite enlightening. By identifying your lifetime clients and their sources, you can uncover patterns you may never have noticed.

As you sort this out, you may find, “Hey, three clients were from my church or four were my gym buddies. Heck, a couple even came from connections back in law school days. Wait—I haven’t thanked those old pals or even touched base with them recently, and they’ve been sending me business!” So, isn’t that something to ponder?