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How Lawyers Should Talk to Clients (and Potential Clients)

Andrew Adams

Having the legal skills and experience to land – and keep – a client is only half the business development battle. The other half is client service. Clients, of course, want winning results and zealous advocates, but they also want to trust and work easily with their attorney. Knowing how to communicate with a client goes a long way toward building a strong attorney-client relationship.

There are benefits to knowing how to best speak with clients. These interactions shape how a client feels about the attorney, and a positive experience can translate to more work and referrals from a client, as well as good online reviews. Every conversation or communication with a client is a branding opportunity. An attorney or law firm can come to be known as difficult and uncaring or prepared and responsive based solely on how they communicate with clients.

Responsive… Before discussing best practices for communicating with clients, attorneys must understand that being responsive is critical. In-house attorneys ranked responsiveness as the trait they value most in their external attorneys – even more than understanding their business or industry, according to a 2017 Thomson Reuters survey. The American Bar Association studied law firm responsiveness in 2016, finding that 42% of the time, law firms take three or more days to reply to a voicemail or online form from a prospective client. Practicing law involves busy and unpredictable days, but being responsive is an area where law firms and attorneys must improve. No one wants to be ignored. Those who are will likely take their business elsewhere.

Successful Client Communications

How a lawyer interacts with a client directly impacts how satisfied that client feels about the legal service they received. Here are tips for successful client communications for attorneys:

Understand the Client’s Needs

Understanding what the client or potential client needs from their attorney begins with preparation. Review notes from their initial contact with the firm to be ready to discuss their problem. If there is any research on the client or the issue that can be done before meeting, either by reviewing their social media or searching online for information about a particular incident or other parties, then do it - they’ll appreciate the interest and the effort. . During meetings with any type of client, listen carefully, ask questions, and take notes. Outside of meetings, stay top-of-mind and be helpful and proactive by sending updates on the work, as well as news or legal developments relevant to the client, their matter, and their industry.

Be Clear

To trust an attorney, a client needs to understand what their attorney is doing and recommending. Individual clients on matters like personal injury lawsuits or bankruptcy are less likely to be familiar with the law, procedures, and the justice system. Attorneys should explain what is happening, next steps, and set realistic expectations on outcomes and timelines. This must be done without legalese: rephrase explanations into plain language to help clients make informed decisions.

Demeanor

Conveying a professional, polite, patient, and empathetic demeanor when interacting with clients will build trust and a solid working relationship. Casual conversation about interesting plans for an upcoming weekend or the client’s family is fine, but keep the discussion appropriate by refraining from topics like politics or religion, and don’t swear. These rules also apply to email communications, which should always be proofread and spell-checked before sending. Some clients may be ok with texting while others may only want to speak on the phone during work hours. Ask the client what their communication preferences are and make every effort to abide by them.

Aside from building strong attorney-client relationships, following client communications best practices keeps attorneys compliant with ethics rules. Every state bar’s rules of professional conduct include clauses related to an attorney’s duty to communicate updates to clients in a timely manner and to be truthful about expectations. Failure to do so could result in a legal malpractice claim and/or discipline from the bar.

When in doubt, attorneys should err on the side of over-communicating to clients. They will appreciate the service and respond in kind with respect and loyalty.