Leo’s post last month on Lawyerist complaining about opposing counsel’s failure to provide coffee and snacks reminded me of my biggest pet peeve when visiting a law office – a lack of decent reading material. Most law firms forget that their reception area is a component of its client service. What kinds of materials does your law firm provide for clients cooling their heels in your reception or waiting area? Most firms underestimate the importance of reading material, and therefore fall short.

Diversion can be important

Most lawyers are very busy during normal office hours and, as a result, sometimes run late for client appointments. When the inevitable wait occurs, what do you have for clients to do to occupy their time?

When I’m kept waiting at the doctor’s office, I’m usually a lot more pleasant to deal with if I haven’t spent the time bored out of my mind and mulling over my aches and pains. Many of your clients arrive at your office already irritated by their legal problems. There is no need for you to annoy them any further.

The old standby is to provide your clients with reading material that will keep them diverted while they wait. Take a look at your waiting area to see what’s available. Here’s what I’ve found while waiting in well over a hundred law firms of all shapes and sizes over the past 30 years.

Nothing at all in the reception area

Occasionally a law firm has absolutely nothing to read in the waiting area – often on the (misguided) advice of their decorator. While this may be esthetically pleasing, it leaves clients twiddling their thumbs and feeling aggrieved with you for the wait – especially when their phone battery is low.

Something mind-numbing

The next worst option is the law firm that is full of itself. These attorneys provide a captive audience with fancy brochures detailing the firm’s “thrilling” history and “unparalleled” practice expertise. While this might be better than nothing, I really don’t care.

Perhaps just as boring are the intellectual property firms that proudly display arcane scientific journals for my casual amusement. They’re kidding, right?

The local daily newspaper

A local daily newspaper is the most frequent offering. This option at least gets a passing grade, but not a very high one. An afternoon client may have already seen the paper earlier that day. Perhaps the bored client can then read all of the horoscopes for that day or attempt the crossword?

Other newspapers and magazines

Now we’re getting somewhere. I’m a news junkie who rarely has the luxury of time to read The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. When I see either on the table in the waiting area, I sometimes actually hope that the person I am calling on is running late.

A sampling of recent magazines is also good. How about The New Yorker, Time or Forbes? Even People magazine can be a guilty pleasure for someone who reads the headlines in the grocery line but is too embarrassed to actually buy a copy. And make sure your popular magazines are up-to-date. Have the issue about Kim’s and Kris’s final divorce settlement, not their wedding.

Big screen TVs

It is more common these days to find a big screen TV in the reception area. Although it looks impressive, it can be risky. Should the channel be set on Fox News or MSNBC? Dr. Oz or Ellen? Regardless, make sure the volume is off and the subtitle switch is on. Others who would rather read or work usually prefer silence.

Keep your clients occupied in the reception area

Just think about the last time you visited your dentist and the only thing to read while you waited in the reception area was Highlights. How did you feel? About as good as your clients will feel if you ignore my advice.

Originally published on Lawyerist.com

Categories: Practice Management