Five Ways to Improve Client Relationships
For most lawyers, building and strengthening relationships with clients is an ongoing activity. Even the most personable and conscientious attorney experiences the occasional misunderstanding with a client — or even loses one for good. But there are several simple things you can do right now to build trust and promote client satisfaction.
- Get to Know Your Client — During initial meetings, take time to understand your client’s expectations, needs and concerns, as well as important deadlines. When you fully understand the client and matter, write a detailed memo and ask the client to verify your perceptions. This memo can prevent misunderstandings and keep the matter on track. Although an engagement letter is recommended to help cement the relationship, rushing a client into signing one or not taking enough time to get the facts can damage the relationship — and even stymie the case.
- Write a Comprehensive Engagement Letter — Using your detailed memo, draft an engagement letter that outlines the matter’s scope, defines your and your client’s roles and responsibilities, identifies team members, and concisely summarizes the service guarantee and fee.
- Make the Billing Process Transparent — Give clients billing options. For example, offer a fixed, hourly, blended rate or contingency fee arrangement, and thoroughly explain how each one works. Also discuss when you will expect payment. Be careful when quoting fee ranges, because clients always assume the low end while you probably look at the high end. To further prevent surprises, consider e-mailing clients daily or weekly with “running tabs” that detail the work you have performed and month-to-date fees. There is even software available that automates the client updating process.
- Maintain Frequent Contact — Clients appreciate continual communication. In fact, it is almost impossible to spend too much time talking with your clients about their legal matters. And while you probably look forward to sharing good news, do not procrastinate when it comes to negative developments. Discuss obstacles and possible adverse outcomes with your client as soon as you become aware of them. Be sure to document these dangers for future reference.
- Remain Open to Change — Cases change as they progress. Litigation often extends beyond initial estimates and transactional representation can become more complicated over time. In addition to informing clients, be sure to gather additional information from them, perform extra research or even enlist the help of other attorneys in your firm who may have expertise in areas you do not.
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