What Your Law Firm Can Learn from One N.Y. Body Shop

A few weeks ago, I was in a fender-bender (okay, it wasn’t so much of an accident as much as it was me backing into a tree while attempting to parallel park after a very long day). Luckily, the damage was minimal with just a small dent in the back.  When I dropped off the car at the local collision center, one of the “guys from the shop” came out to give me a quote and assess my damage.  He warned that while they could do a great job, it would never be a perfect match with the paint. I braced myself for the worst and was blown away when I went to pick up my beloved Volkswagen and discovered that the car looked perfect- as if it hadn’t waged war with that Norway Maple just a few days earlier.  As I was leaving, I thanked the shop manager and instinctively told him, “I’ll definitely come back here.” He looked at me with the utmost sincerity and said “I really hope not. This is one place where we don’t want return visitors.” Taken aback by his response, two thoughts came to mind; first, this man is a terrible marketer and second, in complete contradiction, what a perfect response.

Attorneys often struggle with this same dilemma. Bankruptcy, criminal defense, personal injury and divorce attorneys all hope that they never have to represent their past clients again, and many are quick to dismiss top of mind marketing techniques that would lead them to maintain an ongoing relationship with these clients once a case has been closed.  So what is the best way to drum up referrals from clients who you hope to never have to represent again?



From the moment that I drove up to the body shop and got my quote, I was impressed by their honesty. They could have insisted that I had to repaint my entire car to get a perfect match but the service representative quoted me a reasonable price, warning that the match wouldn’t be perfect but very close. He assured me that if the match wasn’t good enough, we could always revisit the issue and then go with the more expensive service.  They finished my car a day earlier than expected and kept me apprised of the progress with regular phone calls.

Now I can hear all the naysayers, it was an auto body shop. It’s not comparable to a law practice. I’m quite aware of the differences and I’m in no way trying to compare the industries, but good client service and honesty are critical factors in getting referrals whether you’re fixing cars or solving people’s legal matters.



Most people are weary of mechanics; they aren’t honest, they overcharge and they replace parts which are perfectly fine just for an extra buck. Sadly, many people are also weary of attorneys. Even if they’ve never had to hire one, they’ve heard horror stories of attorneys who don’t return calls or charge a dollar for a photocopy.  By immediately disproving this stereotype, you are more likely to be remembered and referred. No pretty website, fancy logo or catchy tagline can replace the marketing value that you bring to the table– your expertise, compassion and relationship with clients.  Go that extra step to let your clients know that you genuinely care and that you will be their fierce advocate throughout the legal proceeding.

In a few years, I will likely remember very little about my exchange with this body shop. I won’t remember how much they charged or how long it took, but I will most definitely remember the manager’s sincere, kind response when he said he hoped to never see me again. For this repair shop, that makes its money off of others’ misfortune, the well-being and safety of their customers still comes first. As soon as he uttered this line, I ran into the shop and picked up ten cards. I’ve already given away three. Sincerity is your greatest referral generator.


Ongoing (nonintrusive) Follow Up

This past weekend, I opened my inbox and found a message from these wizard car doctors. I opened it and quickly realized that it was a newsletter. Despite my quick tendencies to unsubscribe from all group emails, I am still on their mailing list today. To my surprise, I actually read the entire email. I learned what car colors can be more easily matched after an accident (beware of silver, it will almost always need to be completely repainted after an accident- a most helpful tip for reverse-impaired drivers like myself) and which bridges in NYC are the most dangerous (be careful when crossing the Throgs Neck). I didn’t unsubscribe because the email offered something of value.

We often hear from attorneys who are reluctant to contact past clients because they assume the clients don’t want to be reminded of the legal trouble they once were in. And they’re probably correct-who wants to be reminded of a traumatic incident? However, if your office provided valuable expertise and exceptional service, it’s likely that these clients trust you and look to you as a resource, not a sour memory.

If you’re a personal injury lawyer sending out e-newsletters, you shouldn’t include articles on highway death tolls but you might consider sending out tire safety tips – information that can help your clients going forward. Each time that a message from your office lands in their inbox and provides valuable insight, you can be certain that they’re more likely to keep you in mind should a family member of friend require legal services in the future.

For your firm, ongoing follow up might not be an e-newsletter. It may come in the form of a handwritten note every few months or even a blog that explores issues that affect your clients.  After all, everyone’s client base is different and so too must your marketing strategies.

With my birthday just around the corner, I’m pretty certain that in the days ahead I’ll find a card from my new favorite repair place in my mailbox. They may never want to see me again but they’re doing a great job at making sure I remember and refer them.

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Dolores Obrien

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