Client Retention: The Overshadowed Sibling of Client Acquisition

Marketing materials, networking lunches, logo design, ads, websites… none of these tools are foreign to your firm’s marketing team. Every year, a significant percentage of law firm budgets are rightfully allocated to efforts devoted to bringing in new clients. Many law firms succeed with these efforts and have new clients walking into their firms on a daily basis.


But what happens next? When firms continue to acquire client after client, the pool of potential clients eventually becomes smaller and smaller. Also, don’t forget the competitive nature of the legal industry. In a world with plenty of attorneys who can get the job done, how do you create a stable foundation for your book of clients, and keep them from leaving for a competitor?

This is where the overshadowed sibling of client acquisition comes into the spotlight. Too often, we see all resources devoted to client acquisition, leaving client retention on the back-burner. Client retention is arguably one of the most crucial objectives that law firms must always keep in mind. When a client walks through your door, at any time they easily can walk back out and approach another firm. The legal industry is thriving, and customers have plenty of options to choose from. To maximize the results of client acquisition, firms need to devote effort and resources to client retention.

Some may wonder why a client would need to come back once a matter is resolved. Is client retention significant enough to allocate more resources and efforts towards the cause? Shouldn’t we focus on the most important matter at hand, client acquisition? Let’s revisit your marketing budget. How many resources are devoted to getting your clients to the door, let alone, through the door? Some firms devote thousands of dollars to get their name out to the public and create a presence, locally, nationally or globally. A firm is not functioning at its highest level of efficiency if it needs to continue investing the same amount of resources, year after year, towards attracting new clients who do not plan to return. What some fail to realize is the potential that comes with each new client who walks through the door. Although we wish our clients smooth journeys with no bumps along the way, there will almost always be an opportunity for follow-up service; a chance that a new matter will occur, requiring the need for your firm’s expertise. Additionally, in all areas of law, many services can be offered aside from resolving problems and matters after the fact. Teaching clients preventative measures, assessing risks or exposures your clients face, and creating materials to help your clients achieve their goals are all services that your clients can come back to you for in years that follow that first matter.

Now that we’ve established the importance of client retention, where do we start? Law firms function on tight budgets, so where do you find additional resources to allocate to client retention in addition to client acquisition? Surprising to many, client retention requires very little money, if any. Client retention depends on your level of client service, and the efforts and interactions of your team. Answering calls with a smile, answering questions thoroughly, exemplifying a sense of urgency with every matter, treating everyone with interest and genuine kindness, making it your personal mission to surpass goals set with your clients…these are a few examples that may seem like minor details with a minimal impact, but are in fact critical to reaching the objectives of client retention.

Personal details go a long way in client service. The more personalized service that a client experiences, the more connected and invested they will feel toward the firm. Straying away from the traditional distinction between attorney and client, and approaching the relationship in a more personal manner is what creates a bond between a firm and its client. There is no price to be paid on a memorable, healthy relationship paired with optimal results. The relationship between an attorney and the client, a staff member and the client, and the firm as a whole with the client, if established in a positive and productive manner, will last. Across the board, we consistently see that firms with a high quality of service have a higher client retention and referral rate, which ultimately allows for more leniency in resources allocated toward marketing efforts. No marketing method is more powerful than word-of-mouth referral. When a client walks away happy and recounts their experience to those around them, their colleagues, friends and family will have an instant sense of trust and reliability toward the firm that marketing dollars could never buy.


Client service ultimately represents firm culture. When a firm’s culture is established to create a sense of camaraderie, regardless of role, each person realizes a sense of purpose within the firm. When people recognize and are enthusiastic about their firm’s goals and mission, their efforts are driven with passion, in turn providing the client with unparalleled, quality results. This empowerment creates a positive, welcoming environment throughout the firm, which exemplifies itself to the client the moment they pick up the phone or walk through the door. This type of firm culture relieves pressure from both the team and your clients, and allows for a high level of productivity and efficiency. A few things to ponder: What do your emails sound like? What does your firm’s website portray? Are your team members approachable? Are the efforts genuine? Most important, is your team happy to be there? These are the details that determine your firm’s culture, and in turn the ability your firm has to attain and retain clients.

Law firms are in a tough industry with an excess supply of service. Plenty of attorneys are able and willing to provide the fundamental services clients need. What will set your firm apart from your competition is your ability to provide excellent client service and establish long-term relationships with your clients that will last for years to come. Remember that the moment you have the client’s attention, it is your duty to provide an exceptional experience that leaves the client blown away. Here are some key takeaways to consider in creating a plan to increase your client retention rates:

  • Analyze Your Firm’s Work Culture: Happy Employees = Positive Workplace = Welcoming Environment for Your Clients. Reevaluate your firm’s culture and environment, and find ways to make the firm conducive towards motivating your team to want to be there—driven to produce excellent results and make a difference. Helping your team find purpose, and showing each individual that their hard work is appreciated goes a long way in creating a positive work culture for your firm, and ultimately creating a positive environment for your clients.
  • Tidy Up the Office. Serving the same purpose as your marketing materials, your office is a reflection of your firm. Maintaining a clean, clutter-free space with an open floor plan, neutral soothing tones, and adding details such as a coffee/snack bar or a comfortable lobby are all examples of ways you can improve your space with any budget. A great work culture is useless in an environment that leaves a client reluctant to enter the office in the first place.
  • Go Above and Beyond. Whether it be in the services you provide, the materials you present, the presentation you create, or even in your daily conversations and interactions with clients, remember that it’s the details that matter and will ultimately create a lasting impression on your clients.
  • Practice Genuine Kindness. Kindness is the most well-received gesture you can show anyone. Showing that you care and creating a real connection will go a long way in your client and team relationships. The words famously spoken by Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” perfectly captures the importance of practicing genuine kindness both in and out of work.

By adopting these key takeaways, you will establish the foundation for creating loyal clients for a lifetime (or longer).  Remember, though client acquisition plays an important role in any firm’s success, client retention will be the component that determines the longevity of your client acquisition efforts. Excellent, personalized client service will be the main client retention factor that will shift your firm towards adopting the culture, “Once a client, always a client.”

About the Author

Tracey Than is the client services coordinator at Barran Liebman LLP in Portland, OR. Contact Tracey at 503.276.2181 or

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