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July 05, 2006


Miriam Lawrence

Great post, Allison. I agree with your comment that it may be difficult or impossible to teach the underlying feelings that naturally inspire some people to be hospitable ("bedside manner").

However, lack of hospitality is often rooted in simple obliviousness or ignorance, not in an innate desire to be inhospitable. Many behaviors and touches of hospitality can most certainly be taught, and I'd argue that they build on each other.

You may be familiar with the research that says that the physical act of smiling can actually make one feel better. I'd suggest that the more effort a team puts into hospitality, the more hospitable they'll begin to feel. Often people wait to feel inspired to change their behavior, not realizing that more typically, you have to change your behavior FIRST and the change in attitude will follow.

Allison Shields

I couldn't agree more that structure, systems and procedures are key for law firms. It is one of the main things I work on with my clients.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but in reality, it is the structure that provides the freedom to do the more valuable (and usually more enjoyable) tasks - including focusing more on your clients and their experience with your firm. But that's the topic for another post...

Certainly structure, systems and procedues can be taught, and there is a certain level of hospitality or client care that can be taught as well. But some of it does boil down to personality, or 'bedside manner,' if you will. And procedures and systems alone don't ensure that clients will have a good experience with your firm. It paves the way, but it's not a guarantee.

I also agree with Carolyn that most law schools don't teach 'hospitality.' Legal education focuses much more on issue spotting and issue analysis, and often the people behind those issues are forgotten. I had an interesting email exchange with a reader about this very topic, and I'll go into more detail about that in a future post as well.

I'm glad this topic is generating so much discussion.



I've never been to Cornell but I've been making the comparison between law firms and restaurants for years & can't agree more with Greg's comment below.

And the comparison goes even deeper. . .

In my audio CD program How To Market A Small Law Firm I elaborate on this point that just like there are different marketing & business strategies -including client service strategies - that are appropriate for a fast food restaurant that are wholly unsuitable for a gourmet restaurant, so too you need to think about how your law firm is positioned in the marketplace and provide an appropriate level of client service.

But what I did not say (and now wish I had...thanks Allison!) is that no matter what level of client service you provide, it can & should always be done in a hospitable way.

And for those of us who did not have the chance to go to Hotel School to learn all about the art & science of hospitality, I will point out that in my experience it most definitely CAN be learned and instilled in a law firm's culture. Here's what I mean.

It all begins with developing systems & procedures for as many business processes as possible. I know most touchy-feely/artsy-fartsy types would have you believe that systems & procedures hem you in & restrict the opportunity to provide a "personal touch". But in my experience, and many of the solo practitioners I've worked on this issue with, the opposite is actually the case. Having a reliable system to handle 80% of the client interactions frees staff and attorneys to be especially hospitable with the 20% of issues that really need a personal touch.

We're planning to host a teleseminar in the next month or so on how to document business procedures for a small law office. Anyone who is interested should send me an e-mail & I'll send you an invite. Price will be only $79 with money back guarantee if you don't think it's GREAT.


Helping Lawyers In Small Law Firms Make ALOT More Money

P.S. I was just speaking about good ethics/good business & courtesy with the Director of the Michigan State Bar's brand-new Law Office Managemet Assistance Service (Hint to any Michigan lawyers reading this - you have a great new resource available to you.)

Carolyn Elefant

As a 1988 graduate of Cornell Law School, I would encourage the previous commenter to ask his predecessors to take a visit over to the law school and teach them some hospitality. I don't know if Cornell has changed much since I was there, and I loved my time there, but hospitable is one word that I would NOT the word that I would use to describe the place when I was there.


As a lawyer and graduate of the Cornell Hotel School, I have often commented that the practice of law is like the restaurant business (short time between "production" and "delivery" of the product, service at least as important as product, perceived value and relationships are paramount, etc. People used to smirk or roll their eyes. Thanks for backing me up, albeit 10 years late!

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