Strike the Right Balance Communicating with Clients

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In the marketing world, “content is king” has long-been accepted as the mantra for public relations and marketing professionals everywhere looking to heighten visibility for their clients in the internet age.

First coined by Bill Gates in an essay on the Microsoft website in 1996, the phrase has implied that content creation is one of a company’s greatest assets both online and offline. While there is obviously a lot of truth in that statement, with even this blog post serving as an example, for the legal profession, we believe that client service through communication is truly king.

Clients want to hear from their attorneys – we know that communication is critical to fostering long-term client relationships, but how often should you be communicating with them? As with many other things in life, balance is key, but finding the right balance in a world where everyone is inundated with communication consistently can be a bit of a challenge.

The American Bar Association, in an ethics article about email communication with clients, warns of the perils of “snap” or reactionary emails to clients, encouraging deliberate communication not only as a form of client retention, but also in an effort to avoid ethical complaints and malpractice claims. “Every email should be composed as if someday an exhibit stamp would appear at the bottom of the document,” according to the article.

Email communication also sets client expectations and standards, with the article further providing that “once email has been established as a primary means of communication, clients expect their attorneys to monitor the messages received. No one is suggesting that a midnight email needs immediate attention, but email does pile up and can be easily overlooked if not addressed in a timely manner. Attorneys must be diligent in regularly checking and responding to emails.”

Criminal defense attorney and Lawyerist.com contributor Josh Camson shares that when he first opened his law firm he was advised to “call clients all the time. Even if you have nothing to report,” implying that there can never be too much client communication.  Attorney Brian Grossman, a contributor to Above the Law, echoes Camson’s sentiments, saying “your job is to win, not to worry about bothering your client,” adding, “It’s important to always remember to communicate with your client at all times during a litigation.”

There is no definitive guidance or answer to the age-old question of “how much is too much,” but it is clear that the impacts of ineffective or too little communications can be significant. In a very recent Chicago Tribune article about preventing billing disputes with clients, contributor Kathy Colace highlights the importance of effective communication.

According to Colace, “If an attorney fails to adequately communicate the project at hand with the client, there will be unspoken expectations on both ends of the bargain that will result in a recipe for disaster. When the client receives a nasty surprise when their expected deadlines are not met, or when they receive those extra costs incurred, it will not fare well in terms of creating a strong attorney-client bond based on trust. One of the worst things for the reputation of your firm is to make a client suspicious of its service.”

In our research in this area, we have yet to discover a magic formula for successful communication, but there is a consistent theme – successful communication is that which meets or exceeds a client’s expectations. Anything less, frankly, is too little.

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