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LAWBIZ COACHES CORNER: A lesson from Red Lobster

Ed Poll is a speaker, author and board-approved coach to the legal profession. He can be contacted at edpoll@lawbiz.com. Also visit his interactive community for lawyers at www.LawBizForum.com.

Let’s talk about Red Lobster. Yes, the seafood restaurant chain.

You may be asking yourself, “What does Red Lobster have to do with the practice of law?” The answer is, “They are both businesses.”

Red Lobster is striving to improve its image. It wants to be seen as a higher-end eating establishment in order to attract customers and stem its losses. To that end, among other things, it is changing its presentation of food. Instead of serving fish meals on rectangular plates with the food compartmentalized into different parts of the plate, Red Lobster will arrange the fish on a round plate piled on top of the rice to mimic the presentation at better restaurants.

By trying to draw in new clientele without investing a lot of money, Red Lobster is implementing a business-savvy change. Granted, the restaurant will have some expenditures: it will have to spend some money on differently shaped plates, and there will undoubtedly be some training involved with the switch. However, the food products will remain the same.

In other words, what is changing is, hopefully, the customers’ impressions.

Lawyers, too, can change impressions with a minimal input of money. Think about the atmosphere of your office and everything in it and what those things say to your clients and potential clients. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What does your office furniture look like? You don’t have to spend a bundle to get upscale-looking furniture; there are numerous online and in-store buying options for which you won’t have to mortgage your home.
  • What kind of music is playing in the background, either in the office or on the phone if clients have to be put on hold? Choose something classic and classy. Rock music and rap certainly don’t give a moneyed impression. And the song “Money (That’s What I Want)” is sure to turn off more elegant clients.
  • How are you and your office staff dressed? Is everyone dressed for success? Suits, ties, and dress shoes — all day, every day— will give the impression that you are successful and will draw wealthier clients to you. Dress-down Fridays are a no-no.
  • Are you paying attention to small housecleaning details in the office? Are scuff marks regularly cleaned off the walls? Is dust removed from the corners that clients can see as they sit in your (hopefully upscale-looking) waiting room chairs? Nothing says “struggling” like an unkempt office.
  • What kind of items adorn the top of your desk? If you have a free beer mug from that music festival you attended and it’s full of free pens advertising businesses around town, then you need to make a trip to an office supply store.
  • What kind of magazines are in your waiting area, and how old are they? Your teenage daughter’s “Seventeen” magazine just won’t do. A small investment here will be worthwhile. For $19.99 (maybe less if you can find a discount somewhere), you can get 20 issues of “Fortune Magazine.”
  • Does your office bathroom say opulent or impoverished? Have you bothered to stock it with good toilet paper, or are you saving money by buying the kind with virtually see-through sheets? Don’t forget this part of your office. Many of your clients will need to use your restroom, and a well-maintained, classy-looking affair will speak volumes about you.

In the restaurant business, impressions make a difference in terms of the kind of clientele that the establishment attracts. The business of law is not such a different kettle of fish.

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