I spent some time in a lawyer’s office last week. It was in a nice building, it had a nice lobby, and I loved the staff. Everything about the office was perfect except that the lawyer had client files piled up all over the office.
Client names were clearly visible on the folders. Some files had papers spilling out, and, if I had looked, I could have viewed the information in the documents. I casually asked where the lawyer did initial consultations. “Here in my office,” he replied.
I imagined a prospective client coming in and sitting down. The client looks around and wonders about the organizational system. “Is this the way my documents and my finances are going to be treated?” the client wonders.
Then the client looks carefully at the piles. She realizes that she can make out client names and sees the corner of a tax return sticking out. Now she’s wondering whether you’re going to treat her financial records so casually. Will you leave her tax return out for the next client to see?
Maybe she loves the lawyer, but she has doubts now that are hard to overcome. She’s uncomfortable with what she observed. She needs a high level of trust, and her observations at the office created uncertainty. She decides to meet with someone else and see how she feels.
What can you do if you’re the lawyer with the messy office? I’ve resigned myself to the fact that some lawyers just live in a mess. That’s the way they roll, and that’s okay.
If you’re that lawyer, then you need an alternative room for client meetings. A small conference room near your office that’s kept clean is the perfect solution. Meet with your client and then pick up your notes and files as you leave, and it’s ready for the next meeting.
If you don’t have the option of a second room, then consider some sort of furniture solution. Maybe you can use some variation on a roll-top desk—something that closes up over your mess so your office will look organized when clients come to visit.
Don’t let your messy office cause you to lose clients. Making a good impression is critical, and the most important impression you can make relates to the things clients can most easily understand. They understand a mess, and the message comes in loud and clear.