Avoiding a Communications Breakdown With Your Client

The Fall 20011 issue of LAWPRO Magazine features an article called Let’s Get Talking, in which LAWPRO canvassed a number of people inside and outside the legal profession on the topic of client engagement and communication. What we learned is that there is often a problem with the way lawyers communicate with their clients. Communication is integral to the client experience, and a bad customer experience often defaults into an allegation of communication failure (the source of almost half of LAWPRO claims costs).

The end of the article features a summary of tips from the experts we spoke to on how they make communication work better for them:

  • Give your clients some homework: Give them a checklist of things they will need to do and should want to do to help keep the case moving forward.
  • Give them a “manual”: This doesn’t have to be as thick as a car manual, but it could offer basic information about the type of law you will be helping them with, a breakdown of the processes involved and, when possible, timelines or estimated timelines.
  • Treat each client as if she is your only client and your business depends on her: This doesn’t mean worshipping the ground she walks on. It means turning off your phone, not checking your email and putting all your attention on the file before you – not the file sitting on your desk upstairs.
  • Remember the little details:Take a minute to familiarize yourself with the file or documents before you meet with the client. Try to remember some more personal details about the client as well – his family details, hobbies, or job. Try connecting on a personal level.
  • Practice the art of (partial) silence: When a client first comes in to discuss a matter, let the client do the talking, at least at first. Ask appropriate questions to get to the heart of the matter.What exactly does the client need you to do and why?
  • Don’t assume the client understands:When you are explaining something, ask the client if she understands what you are talking about. Take it a step further and have her explain it back to you.
  • Be up-front about costs: To the best of your ability, lay out how the client will be charged. Is he going to be charged a flat rate? Will you charge by the hour? Do follow-up phone calls “count” towards that hour? How much is the retainer and how will it be replenished? Be open.
  • Find out the best way to communicate with the client:Rather than force the client to call you on your schedule, find out if email is a better way of keeping in touch with the client.
  • Spell out your return correspondence policy: Let clients know you will always get back to them in a certain time frame, even if it is just to say – “a tad busy now, but will get back to you tomorrow.”
  • Provide regular updates: Keep the client informed with what is going on in his file. This is especially important when the file has a long shelf life and there may be long periods of inactivity.
  • Acknowledge when you receive new information from the client: Your client needs to know you have that new document in your system and it hasn’t been lost in the mail.
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Comments

  1. There’s alot here that can be extended to manager-employee communication as well.