According to an article in Psychology Today, “A supernatural sense of mind reading is commonly used for nefarious purposes in works of fiction. In the real world, having a clear sense of what others are thinking and feeling can help people avoid common miscommunications—even with strangers—and strengthen personal relationships in the long run.”
Given that most of us are not able to read minds, it looks as though we will need to rely on “having a clear sense” of what our clients are thinking in order to build long-lasting, professional relationships. Fortunately, there is adequate data available to show us what it is that clients really want from their lawyers, and it is incumbent upon us, as attorneys, to make sure that we are providing what’s needed to not only win their case, but also to win their trust.
It should go without saying that an attorney is expected to be competent – an “expert” in the field of law in which they practice. Clients assume that because their attorney has passed the Bar or hasn’t been disciplined, they are competent. But that isn’t always the case. According to Lawyerist contributor Gyi Tsakalakis, “today, the size of the gap between licensed to practice and competent to practice ranges wildly from case (or matter) to case, as well as, from lawyer to lawyer.”
American Bar Association Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 articulates competency clearly, saying, “A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.” So competency is clearly a component of gaining trust and client satisfaction.
2) Bill Fairly and Clearly.
An Above the Law article on how to “Make Clients Happy to Pay Your Bills,” Merrilyn Astin Tarlton, one of the founders of the Legal Marketing Association says, “I guarantee no one really wants to pay for an hour of your time, but if you can describe well what you did in that hour — and couch it in terms that show the value of the activity to them — clients will know more clearly why it makes good sense to pay you for it.” Her words of wisdom ring particularly true, as some of the most common complaints about lawyers include their billing practices, and clients feeling as though they are being “gouged.”
In addition to being clear in your billing procedures and sharing what it is that you have done for your client, it is important that you set expectations about costs with your client at the beginning of the engagement, while keeping them updated along the way. Nobody enjoys paying bills, but there are few things that make clients angrier than unexpected bills. Setting spending expectations and then sharing any anticipated fees, including court fees, is not only an ethical practice, but a way to earn a client’s trust. According to a recent Chicago Tribune article, “Clients lose their trust when they must deal with expensive surprises.”
Clients want to be informed – even if you are sharing that there is no new information to share. While there is no set formula for how often you should communicate with clients, successful lawyers communicate often enough that they are meeting or exceeding their client’s expectations. In the same aforementioned Chicago Tribune article, the author reinforces this point in saying, “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.” With communication being so vital to improving client relationships, it seems only natural that attorneys would find a way to automate communication – not only for updates but also for requesting client feedback on a regular basis. Formal feedback programs are able to ensure that client expectations are more aligned with an attorney’s work product, and are really very simple to implement for your firm. If you are looking for ways to improve and automate your communications with clients, look at all of the features our Case Status platform can provide.
At the “end of the day,” clients are all looking for a “good” lawyer. While “good” is subjective, we know that if you want to be a lawyer who is trusted and respected by your clients, and called upon time and time again to help them with their legal needs, at the very minimum, you will need to be competent in your area of practice, bill fairly, and communicate clearly and consistently.
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