Is The Client Always Right?
Nobody wants to be told this by their client.
Whether you like it or not, every solo practitioner or major law firm, no matter how powerful, answers to someone: the client. Despite our best hopes, practices and training, problems with clients inevitably arise. Whether they’re mad about their bill, the progress of their case, or your legal strategy, no lawyer wants to find themselves on the wrong side of an ethics complaint or a malpractice suit. Check out these tips to keep your clients happy 100% of the time most of the time or, at the very least, protect yourself from frivolous complaints.
- Discuss Fees At The First Meeting: I can’t be 100% sure, but I’m pretty confident that no client has ever seen a legal bill that they’ve been happy with, making fee disputes an issue that an attorney will deal with sooner or later. Even if you forgot everything you learned in law school after you passed the bar, most attorneys probably know intuitively that they should discuss their fees with clients and get written retainer agreements. Unfortunately, sometimes attorneys become lax when they are dealing with legal matters for friends and/or family. Uncle Joe thinks you should waive your fee for closing on the purchase of his home, just because he changed your diapers. Avoid this hassle and save your Thanksgiving dinner by discussing fees upfront.
- Follow Up With Clients: A common complaint of clients is that their lawyers don’t communicate or get back to them. In addition to being a violation of professional ethics, it can also be damaging to your business and your reputation. A good way to avoid this issue is to set out expectations for the process and progress that they can expect in their particular matter. While it’s obvious to you as a practitioner that it could take six months to a year before a matter is resolved, the client, as a layperson, has no idea. If the case hinges on the calendar of a slow-churning court system, let them know up front. Also, RETURN CLIENT’S COMMUNICATIONS! In this day of smartphones and high-speed internet, there’s simply no excuse for not sending an email at the very least. Even if you can’t get to it, have a secretary follow up, if possible.
- Don’t Over-promise: As tempting as it can be to promise the world when trying to get a client, it can come back to bit you in the long run. The bottom line is that even if you think you’ve got a good case, you can’t guarantee an outcome or a dollar amount that the client will receive. A disappointed client, even if you did everything properly, is likely going to blame you if things don’t turn out the way they hoped or if they realize the insurance settlement won’t allow them to retire early.
Although not an exhaustive list, following these tips will put you in a great position to establish happy clients. Lastly, remember, the client IS always right.