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Once you get a client through the door, how do you kick him out?
Time, after all, is money. The longer a chatty client sits in your office shooting the breeze, the less time you can spend actually working and making money. Or getting new clients.
You're seen Jerry Maguire, right?
Jerry, a sports agent, is racing to call a roster of athletes he represents to convince them to join him at a new agency. Though he has a long list of big fish to woo, he gets stuck on the phone with a relatively small fish, who proceeds to take up all his time. By the time Jerry finishes the conversation, the other clients have committed to someone else.
Lawyers can encounter similar letdowns.
There are a number of reasons why clients prolong meetings, according to Lawyer-Coach. Those reasons range from loneliness, to a need for empathy, to simply delaying the return to the daily grind. With a little advance planning, you can keep your client meetings on schedule.
Use your support staff
Tell your assistant to communicate a start time and a stop time for each appointment. Lawyer-Coach says that a client will be more prepared to finish a meeting on time if she receives a specified stop time.
You should also make sure that your client meets your paralegal or assistant, and understands that she may communicate with your staff about her case.
The process is comparable to triage in a hospital. If you use your support staff to handle most of your client's needs at the beginning and the end of an appointment, you will have time to see more clients and finish additional work.
Think about the client needs that you can address before a client walks through the door. Create documents with instructions, relevant terms, and answers to common questions, and provide them either on your website or when your client arrives. If you know you will need 14 different documents from a client, compile a checklist that you can hand to the client.
It's okay to tell a client that he has exhausted his time, but it's rude to cut him off mid-sentence. Consider setting a silent alarm on your phone to alert you when you have five minutes remaining in your appointment. When the five-minute alarm buzzes, you can tell the client that you need to begin wrap things up, and find out if he there are any other pressing issues for that day's meeting. If you feel uncomfortable giving clients the boot, Lawyer-Coach suggests "you could ask your assistant to briefly and apologetically interrupt your meeting with the dawdler to remind you that your next appointment starts in 10 minutes, and to knock on your door again in 10 minutes."
When you delay one client meeting because a previous meeting ran too long, you risk alienating the client who you arguably ignored. If you learn to shorten client meetings, you'll keep your schedule on track and make more clients happy.
Editor's Note, April 7, 2015: This post was first published in April, 2013. It has since been updated.