Regular readers of this column know that I am a huge fan of the television show “The Office.” Perhaps the most amazing thing about the program is that so many of the bits in the show can be used as a hilarious example of what you shouldn’t do. In a Season 4 episode, the protagonist of the show tries to win back clients who stopped using the services of the business featured in the show by personally delivering gift baskets to each of the old clients. This does not go well and ends up with two of the show’s characters driving into a lake. Throughout my career, I have seen a few lawyers chase after departing clients in the hope that clients will return to a firm. In my experience, lawyers should avoid chasing departing clients since this is not a good look, and there is usually a reason why clients are leaving a firm if the firm provided good service to a client.
The first time in my career that I saw an attorney chase after a departing client was when I worked at a smaller shop a few years after graduating from law school. A client informed us on a conference call that the client would be using different counsel moving forward for a portfolio of cases. The client informed us that they wished to use fewer law firms in order to more efficiently manage their cases, and they were moving to national firms that could serve the client’s needs in a number of markets. Our firm only had offices in a few states, so we did not have the same kind of reach that such national firms could afford the client.
The partner, perhaps realizing the huge financial blow that the client’s departure would have for our firm, tried to convince the client to stay with our shop. The partner even said that he would fly out to meet with the client the next day to discuss how our firm could be a valuable asset for the client. Of course, the client did not back off the strategy of using a few national firms for its work, and the client probably put a lot of thought into this strategy before telling our firm about this approach. The efforts of the partner to keep the client made the partner look desperate and might have hurt our effort to serve the client in the future or be on the minds of lawyers for the client when they left that business for other roles down the road.
Another time, I was working at a firm that had a small client for which we occasionally did work. The firm assigned a different attorney than normal to complete a task, which was pretty typically at that firm. The client was not happy about having a different attorney complete work. In fact, the client called this duplicative and said this undermined the relationship the client had with the law firm. The law firm I worked at offered to eliminate charges by this attorney on the firm’s invoice and apply a reduction to the rest of the invoice to satisfy the client, but the client for some reason was not pleased and decided to leave the firm.
For some reason, the partner was really distraught about losing this client. Perhaps taking advice from “The Office,” the partner even sent the departing client a gift basket that anybody would have been happy to receive. However, these efforts were not successful, and the client never returned to the firm. Thankfully, the client was not large, and the loss did not really impact that firm’s bottom line.
From my experience in legal practice, if a lawyer provides good service, and a client decides to leave a shop, it is usually best to let the client leave without protest. Some clients are just not satisfied with their lawyer, and nothing you reasonably do will make them happy. One time, I accepted work from a client who had used a prior counsel, and I was not too offended that the lawyer was looking for yet another lawyer to handle the work after a time because this likely indicated that the client’s wishes were out of my hands.
Moreover, chasing after former clients just looks desperate. Not only can this lead to a loss of respect from associated lawyers, but the client themselves. Some clients might look on lawyers unfavorably if they use such tactics, and this can impact a client’s decision to refer further work to a lawyer down the line.
All told, it can be difficult to lose a client both on a personal and on a professional level. However, it is usually best to not chase after departing clients since this is unlikely to help, and there is typically little that can be done to convince a departing client to return.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.