Communicating With Your Client

To be a successful trial attorney you need to know more than the law, courtroom rules and procedures. A successful trial attorney in this day and age must know how to communicate with his or her clients. By communication, I do not mean the ability to use legalease or an extensive legal vocabulary, but the ability to listen to, understand, and talk with the clients. Much too often an attorney will lose a client or have a grievance filed against him or her by the client not necessarily because the lawyer was doing a poor job, but because the lawyer failed to properly communicate with the client. As a result, the client becomes disgruntled and considers the lawyer to be incompetent. There is a simple solution to this problem: Communicate with your clients on a timely basis. Tell them where they stand. Advise them on the status of their cases. Return their telephone calls on a timely basis. In order to properly communicate with your clients, you must fully understand what the clients’ real problems are and what they want to accomplish in their case. Then discuss a plan of action with your clients that will help them reach their desired goals. The following suggestions will help you maintain proper client communications in order to improve or maintain good client relationships. The most important rule is that you must listen to your clients. Hear what they have to say. Find out what they really expect from you and what result they want. When meeting with clients, do not immediately go into “lawyer mode”. You should let the clients talk and let them tell you everything they need to say about their case. Do not interrupt the clients. Let them tell the whole story. Clients need to explain their situation so as to feel better about their particular problems. Many times clients will not speak succinctly or logically; however, what they have to say is very important to them and you should listen. Next, speak with your clients. Tell your clients what you have done, are doing or will do in their cases. Explain to them what you have accomplished on their behalf. This should be done regularly so that the clients will always have a general idea of what stage their cases are in and what you have done to further their interests. In keeping your clients informed of what you are doing, you should send them copies of important pleadings, motions, and correspondence so that they may understand and appreciate the work that has been done. It only takes a minute to accomplish this and it will make a great difference in your attorney-client relationship. It is very important that you return your clients’ telephone calls within a 24-hour period. If you do not return your clients’ calls on a timely basis, they will believe that you do not care about them or their cases. If you are in trial, on a business trip, or on vacation, have your partner, associate or secretary return the calls and advise the clients of the reason for the delay. Have them find out if they can assist the clients. Have them help the clients understand that you are in touch with the office and that you will be returning their calls personally once you return. When a case is coming up for trial, tell the clients where they stand and then put it in writing. Explain the risks of litigating to them so that they are fully informed before going to trial. Demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of their cases and discuss all ramifications of the trial with the clients. Then, provide the clients with your “game plan” and explain to them how you intend on succeeding in the litigation should they decide they wish to go forward with the case rather than settling. Maintaining proper client communications is extremely important when attempting to develop or continue a successful trial practice. The results of an American Bar Association poll taken in 1993 showed that most clients consider good communications with their lawyers to be the most important aspect in their attorney-client relationships. Most clients polled considered satisfactory results important, but interestingly, “results” did not rank as high as good attorney-client communications in that survey. Professor David H. Maister of the Harvard Business School states that “clients do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” He also believes that clients of law firms want to know that they are not being lost in the shuffle. They want to feel that their cases are receiving proper attention and that they are important to the lawyers. This can only be accomplished through proper communication with the clients. In order to be a successful trial attorney, it takes more than just good litigation skills and knowledge of the law. Before a trial attorney may shine in the courtroom, he must have clients to represent. In order to attain and keep clients, the trial attorney must be able to effectively and meaningfully communicate with those clients. Good client communication skills and good trial technique skills will lead to a long lasting and successful legal career.