Little anticipation now means no playing 'ketchup' later

Edward Poll, The Daily Record Newswire

“Anticipation … is making me wait.”
Those lyrics from a Carly Simon song formed the basis of a perhaps even-better known jingle: a Heinz ketchup commercial from the late 1970s that sold consumers on slow-running ketchup by bathing slowness in the positive light of anticipation.

Anticipation is an important concept for lawyers, too. When lawyers anticipate, positive benefits result.

• Anticipate client needs.

Find out what the client truly expects, then perform beyond those expectations. If, in addition to helping the client solve a particular problem, you are able to show the client how other areas of his business may be improved, the client will learn to turn to you for advice about other business or legal concerns before going to others.

Alternatively, you could notate a courtesy discount in the bill for services rendered. That’s especially appropriate in cases for which the result did not reach the full
measure of the client’s expectations. It will show the client that you’re sensitive to his concerns and feelings.

Anticipate and exceed expectations and you’ll have a client forever.

• Anticipate excess time.

If you’re going to perform an estate plan for a client and think it’s going to take 10 days, don’t tell the client that it will take seven days to impress him. Instead, say that it will take 14.

Except in the unusual circumstances in which you’re dealing with statutory or filing deadlines, clients usually don’t care precisely how long it’s going to take to resolve a matter. But they don’t want to be told one thing and delivered another.

Use your common sense and be realistic about the amount of time it will take to complete any work. Don’t be afraid to communicate the truth to your clients.

• Anticipate nonpayment.

Getting clients to pay bills is frequently easier said than done. Attorneys can, however, control fee collections to a greater degree than many believe possible. It all hinges on the attitude you take and the policies and procedures you put in place.

Operate under the assumption that each and every client presents a potential collection problem, regardless of how carefully you’ve worked to create good relationships.
It’s a fundamental business and professional necessity to have a signed engagement letter for both new and existing clients, stating each party’s responsibilities for making the engagement a success. You will have a much easier time meeting your client’s expectations and collecting your fee if you incorporate all essentials into the engagement letter.

Moreover, the letter is your prime opportunity to make sure that clients understand that they are entering into a two-way relationship: the lawyer agrees to perform to the best of his ability in accordance with professional standards, and the client agrees to communicate and cooperate fully — which includes paying the bill.

• Anticipate disasters.

Planning for a disaster is one of the most specialized, vital and most overlooked business-planning endeavors.

Disaster can come in many forms, any of which may be unexpected and can mean the demise of a business — including a law firm. The goal of disaster planning is not to prevent them from occurring, but to develop a recovery strategy to get your firm up and running again and ensure the survival.

If disaster never strikes, wonderful — but the time and energy spent preparing cannot be viewed as any more unnecessary than the early- or mid-life drafting of a will or purchasing of life insurance.

While any particular disaster may seem unlikely, narrow it down to those that seem most likely to wreak havoc on your business, and address them accordingly through emergency plans, data backup and/or insurance policies.

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Edward Poll is the principal of LawBiz Management. He coaches lawyers and is the creator of “Life After Law,” a program that helps attorneys plan for profitable exits. He can be contacted at edpoll@lawbiz.com.

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