Being a lawyer isn’t easy. Sometimes, you know you have an existing problem with a client. Then there are times when you may not know until you’ve been notified that an ethics complaint was filed against you. An ethics complaint is, of course, a serious matter. It’s not just stressful. It has the potential to end your career if the allegations are serious enough. That’s why it’s important to address the most common problems lawyers have with their clients before they happen to you.
Related: [PODCAST] Weeding the Client Garden and Avoiding Unnecessary Headaches
In this post, we’re going to explore some of the most common problems and how you can take steps to avoid them before they become a risk to your practice.
Taking the Wrong Cases
As a lawyer, you have an ethical obligation to act in ways that show both diligence and competence. When you began your practice, you knew the areas in which you wanted to focus your practice. If you want to expand your practice into other areas, this isn’t done by just deciding to accept cases in those areas. Taking the wrong cases is one of the most common problems that lawyers have with their clients. The clients still expect you to be diligent and competent. They expect that you have the experience to handle their problem.
If you want to expand your practice into other areas, get some practical experience by working with someone who has the necessary skill and knowledge. Take some continuing education courses.
Listening to the Wrong “Client”
There are situations that include a third-party who pays you to provide legal representation for another person. It’s important to remember that the person who pays your bill may not be your client; which means they shouldn’t be the one making the decisions related to the matter. They may also not be entitled to receive information regarding the case. Doing so could breach the attorney-client privilege.
At the very beginning of the relationship, it is imperative that you identify who the actual client is so that you can protect your practice.
Not Allowing Clients to Exercise Their Decision-Making Power
As a lawyer, it is your responsibility to fulfill the objectives of the client. That is, help the client reach their goal. While you are an expert, the client still retains decision-making power. It is your responsibility to educate them on offers, settlements, and their legal options. However, they get to make the decisions.
Remember that your client decides whether to offer to settle, accept an offer, negotiate an offer, counter an offer, reject an offer, or litigate. You have the responsibility to educate and to follow the directive of the client.
Related: A Strategy for Minimizing the Risk of an Ethics Complaint
Not Returning Phone Calls, Messages, and Emails
The most common problem lawyers have with their clients develops when the lawyer doesn’t return phone calls, messages, or reply to emails. Communication is essential. It helps clients understand what’s happening in their case. From their perspective, “no news is good news” doesn’t exist. Needing a lawyer is a stressful experience for most people. They want to know that you’re working on their matter. They don’t necessarily understand that there’s a timeline involved or that there are certain steps that generally take place before their issue may be resolved.
The best way to address this problem is to establish and follow a policy related to returning those calls and replying to those emails. If you’re going to be out of the office, use your out of office email response and update your voicemail greeting to inform others when you’ll be back so that they know when they might expect a response. Try to return all phone calls, messages, and reply to emails within one business day. It helps your clients know you care, and it helps them understand that you’re not ignoring them.
Kindness Matters to Clients
One of the best ways to address the most common problems lawyers have with clients before they actually occur is to recognize that kindness matters. You do not need to get emotionally involved, but offering a professional level of empathy and treating others how you would want your spouse, child, parent, or other loved one treated by a professional can go a long way.