Lawyer Client Relationship Ethics : Managing Expectations

Jun 1, 2021 | Blog, Law Office Management

Lawyer client relationship ethics are important to maintaining a successful firm and avoiding discipline.  Lawyers face many challenges in their profession. Going through law school, passing the moral character examination, and successfully passing the bar exam are just the beginning. Adhering to the ethics requirements and dealing with clients that may have demanding expectations are even more of a challenge.

Going Beyond the Minimum

Ethics requirements set a baseline for proper communication with clients.  These are things you must do. Your jurisdiction sets the ethical standards. However, happy clients make a thriving practice.

With that said, there are some clients who are not adequate. As Megan discussed in her podcast, Lawyers Gone Ethical, it is often a must to weed the client garden . In an effort to ensure that you have the best possible relationship with your clients, set boundaries straightaway with new clients. They need to know what to expect. How you (and your staff) communicate should be in writing. Do you and your staff provide updates weekly, biweekly, or monthly? How are these provided? How long will clients wait to receive a return phone call or email? This information should be provided at the beginning of the relationship.

Do they need an extensive explanation of every step of the process? If so, really consider whether this is the type of client that fits with your practice. This sort of behavior by a client could be a result of their anxiety.  It could also be a sign of control problems.  Importantly, it could result in an ethics complaint filed against you if they feel they aren’t getting all of the information they want, when they want it.

Related: Attorney Ethical Violations

Lawyer client relationships concerning diligence in communication are one of the most common ethics complaints. Understanding HOW your client wants or needs to communicate will not only make the whole endeavor more pleasant, it could save you from disciplinary action. Go above the minimum and make each client feel cared for and secure.

Managing Expectations – And Your Sanity

Experiencing a new-to-law client or a client in crisis can be exhausting when you have a heavy workflow. How do we make the time to add proper communication to our busy schedule? Technical advances have become essential for lawyers to manage various tasks. Using a client portal that clients can log into for data is a very effective way to update any client you may be working with.

Updating clients doesn’t need to equate added stress. You also need to make boundaries to protect your sanity. Automating client communication is not only a helpful tool to manage client updates, it can keep you within ethical boundaries. In Megan’s book, The Modern Lawyer: Ethics and Technology in an Evolving World, She goes in depth on how to utilize technology to suit these clients, as well as clients that may not prefer constant contact.

Beware of THAT  Client

Yes, we have all met that one person. The “no matter what, I’m unhappy” person. They exist, and they even target people. Maybe you have the “blinded by emotion” client who only wants to vex the opposing party. Boundaries are highly important with these people. They become upset and are ready to file complaints, even if you did everything suitably. They may blame you for how their matter progresses. While you can only do so much concerning these types of clients, having a plan in place for potential complaints can make a big difference.

Complaints to the Bar are tedious to deal with. An investigation will take place, and you may end up with a sanction. No one is immune to a Bar complaint and the probability of receiving a letter from the Bar questioning your work is high. Preparing yourself for scrutiny can make the process less stressful. While you can face the Bar on your own, working with an Bar defense lawyer makes the process easier to face. Zavieh Law is here to help.