Speak often, be clear and open
It's not uncommon to hear people make jokes about how their lawyer never returns phone calls, or sends a bill for a thirty-second conversation, or talks down as if they alone can understand the mysteries of the law.
It would be tempting to dismiss these comments as hyperbolic. But, the truth is that lawyers are not immune to making unforced communication errors when managing the expectations of their current and prospective clients.
Here are a few of the lessons we've learned over time working with lawyers about how you can avoid unforced client relationship errors:
Return Phone Calls and Emails ASAP
Though it might be not entirely fair, the stereotype of the unresponsive lawyer is, unfortunately, rooted in some amount of reality. This isn't surprising as lawyers, especially those in small law firms are busy people, and sometimes it can feel downright impossible to set aside one matter to deal with another. But, successful lawyers understand that responding promptly (preferably within minutes, and an hour or two at most) to an enquiry from an existing or prospective client keeps them feeling hear and respected. An email that says something as simple as "I received your message and will be contacting you shortly", can do wonders for your relationship. Indeed, nothing communicates a lawyer's commitment to their clients more effectively than showing that even in the midst of a trial or an extremely busy period, they will take the time to be available. With all the uncertainty with lockdowns at the moment, going out of your way to put your client's mind at ease can go a long way.
Our web-based practice management software can help you stay on top of communications with clients. Monitor everything of importance to a clients matter right from the home dashboard, so little things ever slip through the cracks.
Communicate regularly regardless of whether you have updates
We know what you're thinking, this is the same as last point and to an extent it is, but rather than being reactive, this is about being proactive. Legal matters do not necessarily move on a predictable timetable, and more often than not, it's not a quick process. Months can pass without anything happening. But, that doesn't mean the matter isn't at the forefront of your client's mind. In fact, often more time that passing without activity, leads to more frustration and anxiety for them. They may begin to wonder if you've forgotten about them, and though you haven't of course, and they shouldn't, a diligent lawyer knows that a client doesn't necessarily understand that long periods of inactivity can be expected. To mitigate client stress and improve the relationship, you should proactively check in with clients periodically to offer reassurance that all is well and proceeding as expected, or not, as the case may be.
Bill within reason and be clear from the start
In many law practices, it is common to track time in six-minute (1/10th of an hour) increments. This level of precision is a boon to firm managers because it can provide detailed insight into how lawyer time is spent. But, unfortunately, even if you make clear to clients that this is the way billings will be tracked, your relationship with the client can suffer when they receive a bill for six minutes (or less) of you time, particularly if the time was spent on something relatively administrative, such as leaving a phone message for someone, or scheduling a meeting. Sometimes, discounting billings to exclude time that -- to a client at least -- appears trivial, can return multiples of the value of that time in client goodwill. Ensure clients know exactly how you plan on billing them from the start and you'll reduce the chance of running into issues later.
Maintaining good relationships with all of your clients can be difficult and sometimes complaints are unavoidable. However, if you take steps to improve on these three things, you'll likely be on much better terms with your clients.