The Danger of Keeping Clients in the Dark
The most frequent complaint clients have about their lawyer is not lack of competence or losing at trial.
It’s poor communication.
“[F]ailure to keep a client adequately informed is far and above the number one complaint clients have,” says Lawyers Mutual claims attorney Will Graebe. “Poor communication not only results in loss of business, but also increases the likelihood of malpractice claims, ethics complaints and poor reviews.”
Graebe is claims counsel and relationship manager for Lawyers Mutual. His article “Keeping Your Clients in the Dark,” is recommended reading for practicing attorneys. Some takeaways appear below.
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Keeping Clients in the Dark Is Dangerous – and Unethical
Here are some of the highlights from “Keeping Your Clients in the Dark” by Will Graebe (all quotes are from him):
- Happy clients don’t sue their lawyers. “Clients who feel seen and heard by their lawyers are far less likely to make such complaints. I have seen situations where a lawyer made a mistake that resulted in damage to the client, but the client chose not to pursue the malpractice claim because the lawyer had a good relationship with the client.”
- Manage client expectations. “Set expectations with the client from the outset. If you would prefer for the client to speak with your receptionist or administrative assistant to get administrative details and updates, let the client know that. If you prefer to communicate by e-mail with the client, tell them that up front. Give them a realistic timeframe for the matter you are handling. Do not assume that they will know how long various stages of the representation will take.”
- Return client phone calls. “There is nothing worse than being kept in the dark. If the news is no news, tell the client that. It doesn’t need to be a 15-minute phone call. It can be a simple one-line e-mail or text. It can also be a quick call or e-mail telling the client that you cannot get to their question right away but will call or e-mail the next day.”
- A simple acknowledgment goes a long way. “We have all been in that situation where we are at the counter of a retail establishment or restaurant and an employee ignores our presence. They might or might not have been busy doing something. In either case, they don’t say anything, and you are left to wait without any idea when you will be served. All they would have to do is acknowledge your presence and tell you that they will be right with you. The way that you feel in this situation is the way your clients feel when you do not acknowledge their requests.”
- Train your staff. “Good client communication is a team effort. Everyone needs to be on board. Establish a policy in your office to respond to all client inquiries within 24 hours of receipt of the inquiry. The response can be a simple request for additional time to respond. It goes without saying that emergency and time sensitive requests should be addressed immediately.”
- Avoid red flag clients. “We have all had at least one red flag client. They tend to be the ones who are constantly calling you with questions or suggestions about how you should do the job they hired you to do. No amount of setting expectations in the beginning will change this.”
Source: Keeping Your Clients in the Dark - Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company (lawyersmutualnc.com)
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