By: Ally Lozano, CEO and Founder
Sometimes clients can be the most frustrating part of the job. They can be needy, overbearing, and demanding. However, part of the problem is that they don't know how to work with lawyers. Most clients have never worked with a lawyer before. They don't know what to expect or how to interact with us.
The only way that they can learn how to have a productive lawyer/client relationship is if we teach them how to work with a lawyer.
This recently came up in my practice because I have a client who is illiterate and has never been to school a day in her life. Part of what we have to do for her is fill out a form that asks for biographical information. After my assistant called the client to fill out the form, I received an angry phone call from the client. She said that she hired an attorney so that she didn't have to do anything and if we were going to ask her questions then she did not understand why she had to pay an attorney.
My first reaction was annoyance. As an educated attorney, I assume that anyone would understand that an attorney can't just magically come up with the names of someone's siblings and her children's dates of birth. Then... I took a moment to think of it from her perspective. She is uneducated. She does not know how to even write her name. She believed that she put her case in the hands of an attorney who could just take care of her problem without her being involved. I realized that she does not understand what an attorney can, and can't, do. I had to take the opportunity to set her expectations appropriately and help her understand the limitations I have as her representative.
Here are a few ways to help teach your clients to have a successful working relationship with you as their attorney:
- Set expectations from the beginning.
When the client is signing up, describe to the client the amount of contact they can expect to have with you. For example, you can explain that the legal assistant and/or legal secretary will be able to answer the majority of questions for them and that a lot of the contact will come from them. If you do not handle the sign up yourself, be sure to tell your clients this in the consultation so that they understand that they will not meet with you directly when they sign up.
- Make it clear in the contract.
In your contract it is a good idea to include language such as, "Any and all members of Law Firm, and anyone hired therein, may work on your case." This helps cover any contract attorneys or paralegals that you will hire. This also gives an opportunity for you to explain to the client that you work in a team and that you will not be the only person who communicates with them about the case.
- Use visual handouts
Legal cases are confusing. Many lawyers tend to speak in legalese without even intending to do so, which makes it even more confusing for the client. Also, most clients are going through some sort of difficult, overwhelming, or scary experience which is why they need a lawyer's help. In that emotional/ mental state, it is even harder to understand the information being explained by the attorney. This is when visual handouts help.
For example, a checklist that lays out every step of the case and that can be checked off as the step is completed can be very helpful for a client. A detailed letter to the client giving an overview of the entire case, but in a succinct bullet-pointed and/or numbered format, is helpful as well. Additionally, sending the client a letter after each step in the case is completed explaining (1) what that means for the client and (2) explaining what comes next will help clients understand the case more.
Of course for you it is easy to "see" the process. You know what is next. You know where you are going. But the clients have never navigated the path before and they need a map. If you make that map for the clients, they will be able to collaborate better with you, make a stronger case, and it will also cut down on the questions and the "neediness" that some of us experience from clients. They won't ask you the same questions over and over because your materials will explain it all to them.
I have worked with several lawyers and I have never had one provide me with written materials with an overview of the case. Most of the legal processes that I have been involved in were foreign and confusing to me... and I am a lawyer! I wish that my lawyers would do/ would have done this so I am sure to do this for my clients.
- Over-communicate with Clients
Your clients want to hear from you. They need to know that you are working on their cases and that everything is going well. It is important that they receive a "touch" from you each month. The concept of receiving a "touch" is something that I learned in a fundraising course for a non-profit board. We were encouraged to reach out to our donors every single month, not necessarily to ask for anything, but rather to continue to cultivate the relationship. Your legal business needs to do the same.
Sending a monthly update letter, calling the clients monthly, sending out season-themed postcards or greeting cards, and more can be ways to let clients know that you are working on their cases and that they are important to you. Also, if they know that they will be hearing from you regularly, it lessens their need to reach out to you on a regular basis "just to check in" or to ask how the case is going.
These tips will help empower your client interactions and make the attorney/ client relationship more fulfilling (and less frustrating) for you both.
What other ideas do you have?
About your Amiga in Life, Business and Law:
Alexandra "Ally" Lozano is a national award-winning attorney and the founder of AMIGA Lawyers and Alexandra Kennedy Immigration Law.. After becoming a mother, and in a matter of 3 months, Ally transformed her practice from earning in pesos to earning 6-figures and she is passionate about teaching attorneys how they can do the same. Ally empowers lawyers to be the CEOs of their law firms with her weekly blog, webinars, and conferences where she teaches step-by-step how to do the work they love while running a profitable legal business. Ally lives outside of Seattle with her husband and their 5 children.