When clients become unhappy with their lawyers, the real problem often lies with the clients’ expectations. The case hasn’t gone the way they thought it would, and they become confused and upset.
The key to avoiding these problems lies in managing the clients’ expectations from the start of your relationship. Understanding why your clients have come to you for help and what they think about the situation they’re in can help you proceed with cases smoothly.
Here are seven tips to manage your clients’ expectations.
- Ask Questions and Listen
Your initial meeting with your client is your first opportunity to gauge the expectations they have coming in to the case. You may want to focus on the facts of the case, but it’s important to take the time to learn how they feel about their situation. Gaining an understanding of their emotional response is key to setting and managing their expectations.
- Identify Your Clients’ Expectations
Two clients with similar cases may have radically different expectations regarding your role and the outcome of their case. To eliminate confusion, start your work with a client with an in-person meeting where you define the scope of your anticipated work and their expectations.
This meeting is also an opportunity for you to set expectations. How long do you expect this case to take? What obstacles might you encounter? What will you need from the client? You should also establish your expectations regarding fees and payment at this initial meeting.
- Let Clients Know All Potential Outcomes
Your client may expect not only to win a difficult case but to reap a financial windfall from it. They may anticipate a dramatic confrontation in the courtroom when you realize that a settlement is the best possible option. To keep your client realistic, be honest from the start about all possible outcomes, including the worst-case scenarios. Make sure your client understands what is within your control and how new information can change the likely outcome of their case.
- Revisit Client Expectations as Things Change
It’s not enough to manage client expectations as a case begins. The client’s emotions and perspective may change as the case evolves, and you may find yourself embroiled in difficult conversations as a result. Be proactive by informing the client of any bad news immediately. As you deliver the news of any unfortunate turns in the case, be prepared to provide options for a response. Make sure your client understands throughout what factors are within and outside your control. When your client feels they have agency in making the decisions regarding their case, they’re more likely to stay realistic about the outcome of the case.
- Walk Them Through Your Process
Many clients know very little about the legal process, and they may come to you with expectations gleaned from watching TV shows. More experienced clients may have expectations set by their dealings with other law firms. Help clients with all ranges of experience by walking them through your own firm’s process, including your overall plan for their case.
In addition, discuss your office’s procedures and establish expectations regarding communication, giving preference to your client’s wishes. Find out if they’d rather communicate by phone, email, or even text, and whether they want communications outside normal business hours.
- Stay in Communication
Failure to communicate with clients is one of the key reasons people complain about their lawyers, according to the American Bar Association. Give your clients a call with any news whatsoever on their case — or even if time has passed and there isn’t any news. If you have bad news to share, do it over the phone or in person so you can gauge their reaction, and avoid email for any delicate or difficult conversations. Reply to your clients’ calls and emails promptly, and always take time to make sure they’ve really understood what you’re communicating.
- Provide Personalized Attention
Clients need to trust their attorneys. They may not realize all the tedious work that goes into developing a case, but they want to feel confident that you’re representing them well. Providing personalized attention that takes into account their emotions is a great way to let your clients know you’re the attorney they need. When they see that you understand their feelings and their desire for justice, you build the bond of trust that’s needed for a successful attorney-client relationship.
Adopting these tips can help you better manage client expectations and minimize any issues and misunderstandings. Helping your clients understand what to expect in their case and in their relationship with you is a key step to providing the excellent representation your clients deserve.