The Inevitability of a Bad Vendor.

Every attorney must deal with the utter joy and bliss that comes with dealing with vendors and service providers. (That was tongue in cheek).  I’ve had my own law practice since May of 2008, and there has been no greater source of frustration than the service provided by a few vendors over that time. When you’re running a small law firm, and you’re making payroll, paying expenses, maintaining your marketing, meeting client needs, and continuing your own personal growth, having to deal with a poor service provider is the last thing in the world you want to be dealing with.

I recently had the worst experience of any vendor I’ve ever had in dealing with my office’s long-distance and internet provider. If you’re in the market for service and want to ask me directly, I’ll discuss it more fully, but this isn’t an axe grinding session.

The experience we had was nothing short of a vendor nightmare from the beginning of our contract. The experience left us scratching our head at best, and made us feel pretty stupid that we didn’t catch certain things along the way, and demand better earlier on; but it taught my office manager and me a few valuable and practical lessons that we wouldn’t have received in two years of an MBA program. I’m passing them on so you don’t make the same mistakes. Here you go:

  1. Make sure to have a satisfaction clause in your vendor contract. Most vendors won’t give this to you but requesting it will begin a conversation that may lead you to second guess your choice of vendor. If you ask for it, you may get it, and if they say no, it may save you a bad experience.
  1. Know your needs before you sign up. If you need more than a T1 line for internet, then don’t sign up for a T1 line. Don’t trust the potential vendor to identify your needs for you. They will authoritatively tell you what you “need;” however, when it comes to the larger vendor contracts, you need to independently establish your needs.
  1. Monitor your bills. It is not out of the realm of possibility that you’ll be over-billed, overtaxed, or you’ll find fees and costs that were not identified in the original agreement. We received a bill with an additional $200.00 of fees, taxes, and unspecified costs. Make sure to have the company identify these types of costs before you sign the contact. There will be fine print language that would cover “fees and taxes” in the contract, so make sure you know what those are before entering into the agreement.  You may find, as we did, that our previous provider was less expensive after taking into account fees and taxes.
  1. Put your complaints in writing. Don’t hesitate to complain when something isn’t right. My motto with business vendors has become, “Make my life easier, or get out of it.” You’re paying your hard earned money so that you’re life is easier. Too many businesses today are concerned with the sale, but the service is an afterthought. Don’t be afraid to make sure they know when they are failing you. Although it’s easy to think you’re a small fish, social media equalizes your position. One bad post about the company from a small office on Twitter is 100x worse than silent dissatisfaction by a larger firm. Be a squeaky wheel, and don’t fee bad about it.

The practice of law is like any business, first and foremost it’s a business. Without productivity and profitability there will be no lawyers in the courtroom in many cases. Make sure your vendors aren’t a hindrance to your own ability to make a living. Keep them honest, and make sure they make your life easier, or tell them to get out of it.  And as always, good luck living The Lawyer Life.