By Lauren Morley on May 24, 2018 2:52:53 PM
Keeping your clients satisfied and on-board is ideal for any attorney. Unhappy clients = poor reviews and lost revenue! Let's go into the most common reasons client fire their attorneys, and how you can prevent it.
At Techvera, we often say "there is no such thing as too much communication". This applies to any industry - law firms especially! Not communicating often and effectively is a huge reason clients ditch their attorneys.
Of course clients want to be kept up-to-date. This may be one of the most stressful and important issues of their lives, and they've chosen you to help navigate them through it. They want to know that their case is being handled and they understand every step of the process.
"Effective communication with clients isn’t something that most lawyers give much thought. And this trend starts in law school, where the focus tends to be on substantive law and legal theory. If communication is even mentioned, it’s in the context of oral argument to the court or written memos of law. The importance of clear communication with clients isn’t often discussed and the techniques for doing so are rarely fodder for classroom discussion or CLEs.
And that’s a damn shame, since in the absence of effective communication, lawyer-client relationships have a tendency to disintegrate rapidly. This is because strong communication skills, founded on a basic understanding of human psychology, are essential to a successful and lasting attorney-client relationship. The failure to provide clear, concise and empathetic counsel to clients more often than not leads to lack of trust and misunderstandings."
How to Prevent
Don't leave your clients begging to know about the status of their case. Take the time to learn how often your client would like to hear from you, what their preferred communication method is, and their biggest concerns. Set expectations from the beginning to avoid heartache for both of you.
Use the right tools. There are plenty of tools and software available to help improve law firm communication and management, both internally and with clients. Some lawyer favorites are Slack, Skype, Microsoft Office, CosmoLex, LEAP, MyCase, Clio, and CASEpeer.
A Bad Relationship
Sometimes relationships just aren't meant to work out. Differing belief systems, world views, mannerisms, or behaviors can keep two people from jiving. We all wish we could predict a bad relationship from the start and avoid it completely (looking at you, college boyfriend). But we haven't invented that technology quite yet, so you'll have to rely on old-fashioned methods to keep your relationships productive.
"As analytical professionals, our job frequently requires us to analyze dispassionately a complicated problem and provide sober counsel about how to proceed. We seem to expect clients to act the same way."
-John G. Balestriere, Above The Law
While you may not necessarily be the cause of bad attorney-client relationships, you should do everything possible to foster good ones.
How to Prevent
Know when to be the lawyer, and when to be the friend. No doubt you've had to deliver bad news to your clients. When we experience "sudden anger or extreme negative emotions, the amygdala, a small organ in the medial temporal lobe of the brain, is stimulated, causing hormones to be released that 'mobilize heartbeat, muscles, blood pressure, breathing, and concentration…and once in an amygdala-heightened state, (one is) literally incapable of processing complexity or subtlety.'" -MyCase
Pause your lawyer instincts in this situation, and instead focus on supporting your client, allowing them time to regain their composure, or offering words of encouragement. Likewise, don't be afraid to celebrate successes with them! Be more human and deepen your connection with clients to help them realize you're not just there for the paycheck. They'll remember your support and empathy long after their case is settled.
Screen your clients. Frankly, there are some people we just can't stand for whatever reason! Not everyone is going to be the right client for you, and that's okay. It's sometimes tempting to take on any and every person that comes our way, especially when money is tight. But many people just aren't worth the stress. Take the time to interview and screen any potential clients before formally taking them on. Ensure they are someone you actually want to work with, and prevent a sour relationship before it can even begin.
Over-promising and Under-delivering
It's easy to get caught up in "making the sale" in any business. Sometimes we get so eager to land that new client we'll promise them we can do everything. But you're not a miracle worker!
"People in trouble want answers from their lawyers. The number-one question they want answered is: what is going to happen to me? No honest lawyer can guarantee the outcome of any case. No matter how unfair the charge is, no matter how great the lawyer is, no matter how hard the lawyer works, an honest lawyer cannot tell you what will happen."
Promising a new potential client that you'll:
- For sure, without a doubt win their case
- Get them all the money, items, results, etc. they want (or even more!)
- Give them ALL of your attention and be available at any time of the day...
...or anything else that isn't 100% set in stone will almost certainly come back to bite you.
It's far better to play the long game. Maintain your reputation as honest and ethical, rather than risking it all to land a new client with only short-term benefits.
How to Prevent
Handle misconceptions and expectations from the beginning. Do you often hear the same things from clients in certain situations? Bring up common misconceptions and what your client should realistically expect as early as possible. Instead of trying to predict the outcome, explain the range of possibilities for a case and refrain from making promises.
If you do realize you've over-promised something, own it! Be honest and upfront with your client as soon as you realize something may not work out the way you expected. We all know sh** happens! Your clients will understand - but only if you don't try to hide it.
Cost and Billing
Price objections are only an issue when the customer doesn't see the equivalent value. No one expects a lawyer to be cheap, but your clients don't want to feel like walking piggy banks either! Many people already have negative associations with lawyers and their "ridiculous" fees.
This is another issue that comes down to communication. It's up to you to explain what your clients are paying for and effectively communicate your value.
"If you can surprise the client...with something useful that they didn't expect, you increase the chances that they will use your firm again, refer others to you and pay their final billing. "
How to Prevent
Be proactive and transparent about price. Now this doesn't mean itemizing every minute of your time and sending it to your client! It simply means ensuring your invoices are clear and easy to understand, your client knows the amount of work and experience you're putting into their case, and periodically reviewing their bill and answering any questions they may have. Clients may avoid bringing up billing issues themselves because they fear being rude or upsetting their attorney. This can cause negative emotions to simmer and potentially erode your relationship.
Always be on the lookout for ways to add value. People love to feel like they're getting a good deal (even when they aren't...). Do you include services that clients are not charged for, such as short conversations or extra tidbits of advice? Do you have better tools and resources than your competitors? Do you truly get to know your clients and continue the relationship even after their case is settled? Figure out (or if needed, create) what separates you from the rest of the legal industry and make your value known!
We hope this advice helps you in your practice! You made it to the end, so clearly you care about your clients and your company. You're the kind of lawyer we love to work with. If you're interested in improving not only your client relationships but your operations, efficiency, time management, and productivity as well, it may be time to contact us to find out how we can help you achieve your goals!