Being Up Front and Blunt About Setting and Controlling Client Expectations

My good friend Jim Calloway, practice management advisor for the Oklahoma State Bar Association, just added a fantastic post on his Law Practice Tips Blog.

Jim’s post, One Firm’s View of Client Expectations is about a South Carolina law firm that has decided to use its web site to make certain their potential clients have clear and realistic expectations about the firm before they even schedule an appointment. Check out the Client Expectations (Realistic or Unrealistic) section of their web page.

This page has statements I have never seen on a law firm’s website before: “We do not work on the weekends and do not provide emergency numbers for the weekends” and “Do not think we are perfect. We make mistakes.” Wow! Have you ever seen anything like this on a law firm website before? You should read the entire expectations page. There is a fair bit of general advice about family law and litigating domestic disputes. This page clearly sets out the rules of engagement for the client if they are to retain the firm to act for them.

In his post Jim says, and I wholeheartedly agree with him, that one of the most critical things lawyers need to do at the start of a matter is discussing client expectations and making sure that new clients have reasonable expectations. This is one of the best things you can do to lessen your exposure to a malpractice claim (there is probably nothing better for lessening your risk of a claim). A client with unrealistic expectations is probably not going to end up as a happy client, no matter how good the results. Lawyers want to achieve good results and also produce satisfied clients who will return for more legal work in the future and perhaps refer other potential clients to the lawyer.

It seems like this firm has made a strategic decision to say “If you are going to a high maintenance client, you’re probably not going to be happy with us and we’re probably not going to be happy with you.” Good on them. They will have happier clients, and they will be happier and less stressed lawyers.

Now, if you aren’t quite ready to put this kind of language on your website, at least put similar statements in your retainer or the initial letter to your client. For a precedent consider using some of the comments from these two documents, a retainer and billing information letter and a matter process and administrative information letter.

Thanks to Jim for bringing this firm’s client expectations page to our attention.

Cross posted on Avoid A Claim and the Lawyer Success Tips blog.


  1. See an excellent comment on this, including a partial re-write by Susan Cartier Liebel: