by: Jeff S. Gibson, Attorney
Don't you hate that feeling of total helplessness when you know there is something wrong with your car but aren't sure what? You get that knot in your stomach because you know you are at the mercy of the mechanic to tell you what the problem is. What's worse is when the mechanic delivers the news because you know two things 1.) it will most likely be expensive and 2.) you will have no idea what he is talking about when he explains to you what is wrong with the vehicle.
I have practiced law for over ten years and think most clients who are starting litigation go through the same feeling of trepidation as people who are waiting for a mechanic to deliver the news about car repairs.
Things that seem basic to lawyers such as discovery, depositions, and hearings are completely new and foreign concepts for a first time client. Litigation can be an intimidating process. It's important for a lawyer to provide guidance to their client every step of the way. Here are three key steps to follow that will create a strong attorney-client relationship:
1. Keep the Client Informed.
I sometimes take over cases because a client was unsatisfied with their previous lawyer. When I ask the client why they were unsatisfied, the answer is almost universally "My lawyer didn't tell me what was happening with my case." As lawyers, we know the process of litigation can take months or years. Most clients don't realize that a case can take that long. While the length of the case is sometimes out of the lawyer's control, the lawyer can certainly keep the client updated. Sending correspondence about the case, motions or briefs, and Orders from the Court to the client will allow the client to feel more involved in the process. It's a simple thing to do, and it goes a long way to building a strong relationship.
2. Set Expectations
At the very first meeting, a lawyer should set expectations with the client. A client needs to understand that the process can be long and grueling and therefore patience is a must. A client also needs to have a reasonable expectation as to any possible recovery. It serves no purpose for a lawyer to set unrealistic expectations in an effort to get the case. Be honest and forthright with the client about the challenges their particular case faces, and be careful not to suggest an amount the case is worth. The moment you suggest a number, the client will have that number burned into their head. We all know a case is never as good as the first time the client tells you their story. There will come a time later in the litigation when settlement amounts are an appropriate topic. Remember to set the proper expectation at the beginning by sharing the message that litigation is fraught with uncertainty and there are no guarantees.
3. Be Patient
We have all taken that phone call at 6 pm that turns into a two hour discussion. During the course of that call, we end up discussing the case at length and repeatedly explain the process of litigation. While it can sometimes be frustrating for the lawyer, it's important to remember the case could one of the most important events in our client's lives. A divorce, a lost job, or severe injury are life changing events. If lawyers would take a minute and put themselves in their clients' shoes, that two hour call wouldn't seem so frustrating. So next time you get that end of the day call from the client that calls every week, take the time to talk to them. Your patience and understanding will help build a stronger attorney-client relationship and may lead to future business.
Communication is key. Remember these tips the next time you are signing up a new client and I'm sure you will not only build a stronger attorney-client relationship but you will also help make their experience less stressful.