Lawyers tend to think of themselves as strong communicators, but they don’t always get their message across to clients.
It doesn’t help that clients aren’t always clear about what they want from lawyers.
This was evident at the mid-winter meeting of the CBA Council, when the Legal Futures Initiative took advantage of the gathering of lawyers from across the country, representing most sizes and types of practice, to find out what lawyers think clients want.
Presented with results from the Initiative’s own survey of client expectations, some lawyers present were a bit taken aback by the idea that clients wanted to do more of the work themselves in order to lower costs – because it seemed to contrast with their own experience of clients asking that junior lawyers not be put on their files in order to save time and money.
Clients’ desire to have more online tools and services was likewise contrary to lawyers’ understanding that human interaction is important in the legal process.
And the lawyers present were downright surprised by the idea that some clients feel their lawyer isn’t looking out for their best interests. “How could lawyers NOT look out for the best interests of their clients?” the lawyers asked.
Clearly what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.
The group suggested that perhaps clients don’t truly understand or appreciate what a lawyer does for them; on the other hand, clients may not feel like they’re being listened to, which can translate into a perception of inadequate service or overcharging.
One of the ideas that emerged most strongly from the CBA research into client expectations was about value – not necessarily cost, though that is a critical factor in the lawyer-client relationship, but the perception of value received when a lawyer is hired to resolve an issue. Clients want to know up-front what value they can expect from the transaction with regard to service, process and outcomes, which is far more than the bottom line on the invoice. They also want a realistic idea of the risks – what can happen when – so they’re not surprised later on. And winning is often not as important as resolving the issue quickly.
Those gathered at Mont Tremblant in February agreed lawyers as a profession need to do a better job in their initial meetings with clients, and acknowledged the need to improve their understanding of what clients want, identifying the critical role that clear and regular communications play in clarifying and managing expectations.