Should Your Website Discuss Client Expectations?

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Smartphones and the internet have made mobile law practice reality. For many lawyers this leads to checking emails on the couch, over the weekend, and other times outside of “working hours.” I do my best to set limits, but it still happens.

Should your website explain your normal business practices and what clients should expect from you?

Some discussion is a good idea

Explaining what your normal business hours are, the policy for returning emails and phone calls, and your approach to client relations is a good idea. If you only make office appointments between 8-5, with limited exceptions, put that on your site.

If your firm makes it a point to always be available for clients, no matter the time of day (many criminal defense attorneys work this way), put that on your site.

Even if your normal practice is to only conduct business during normal business hours, but you will be available at other times in specific situations, that should go on your website. For some clients, your availability is not that important. For many clients, however, knowing when and if you are availability is critical to whether they hire you.

Too much detail might drive away clients

Expressing rigid rules on your site could be off-putting to clients. For example, if you only respond to emails and phone calls during normal business hours, that may severely limit your client base. Even if clients do not need to contact you after hours, those type of statements can be interpreted negatively and could reflect a firm attitude that is not client-centric.

Maybe you check your work email once a day on Saturday and Sunday. There is probably no reason to put that on your website. Some clients may think that means you are available on the weekends. Others might think you are not as available as they would like. Most potential clients would probably find that statement relatively meaningless.

Explaining your approach to business and clients on your website can be a good thing, but make sure you express the right information and the right attitude.

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  • Tyler White

    Great post, Randall. I agree for the most part…

    There was an ABA article recently (here: http://tinyurl.com/26by4n2) about some family law attorneys that took great lengths to manage expectations and explain the limits of their availability: “We do not work on the weekends and do not provide emergency numbers for the weekends. There are times we may look at and answer your e-mail over the weekend, but this is generally the exception and not to be relied upon by you that we are accessible on weekends.”

    I think this is fine, but there are also parts of their ‘client expectations’ page that spend far too much time explaining what they WON’T do. This, IMHO would be off-putting to some potential clients right out of the gate. Their website explains that “’calling three or four or multiple times in a day will not get your call answered any faster.’” It tells clients that cases are often slow-moving and “please do not take this frustration out on us or my staff.’”

    As a potential client, this tells me two things: 1) I am just one client of many waiting on hold, and 2) other clients have often gotten really frustrated with this firm. I’m not implying that this is the case, it is just a first impression that one might have. I appreciate the motive and originality of what they are trying to do, I’m just not sure that they are striking the right tone.

    There should be a limit to how much you tell clients you won’t do on your site. Instead, it may be more beneficial to discuss some of these things in the engagement letter or the first meeting. Just my $.02

  • Danny

    weird seems like SPU had an article like his up a few days ago… some how they got the drop on you guys!

  • Nathan Jones

    Mr. White- I read that article as well and came away with the same first impression.

    While it is important to set boundaries, especially in a small firm, it is also important to remember that your firm should be client-centered. When you begin acting like the client works for you instead of the other way around, I think you have some problems.

    In my opinion, the best place to discuss these types of expectations (regarding contact, availability, etc.) is the first meeting. It can be very difficult to convey the correct tone when you are writing this kind of information. Explaining it in-person allows you to read body language (or get an immediate response) so you know if additional explanation is necessary.

    Great article!

  • Ronnie

    @Tyler, but that’s real life. Often, especially in family law, you are waiting on hold. If I issue discovery and they have 21 days to respond, I can’t do much for 21 days. If it takes 4 months before a scheduling conference is assigned to pick a date for trial, then unless there’s an emergency I’m not getting in sooner. If you signed an agreement and are waiting out the one-year separation, then you’re waiting. If you file a complaint and it takes the court 3 weeks to prepare it for service, then I can’t expedite the process. There is nothing I can do about those things and clients, particularly in family law, are often apoplectic about the delay, which comes down exclusively on the attorney’s head. So yes, clients probably have gotten frustrated, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the attorney is the one at fault. If it’s off-putting, and I’m sure for some it is, then they’re probably not clients the firm wants.

    I read the page yesterday, and ironically a client of mine just showed up wanting to speak, and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t available. My telling him 2 hours before that I was unavailable until next week obviously didn’t work, but I didn’t leave my office to speak to him either. Sometimes clients need expectations managed before they decide to become clients, which can save you and them a lot of frustration down the line.

  • Tyler White

    Ronnie-

    I respectfully disagree. I understand that it is ‘real life,’ but since when is something being true the same thing as being something you should advertise? Some attorneys occasionally space out at meetings and drink too much at parties, but that shouldn’t go on their website. I’m being sarcastic, of course, but practicing law is a business, and I prefer to advertise my business in as positive a light as possible.

    If the firm in the article created the page to weed out needy clients, they may be accomplishing that, but at what cost? Maybe I don’t agree with the approach because I am an estate planner and I have different kinds of clients. And maybe it’s because I don’t have the awesome problem of TOO MANY clients, but this is a marketing strategy that I wouldn’t employ. But hey, it got their website linked for free on ABA (and now Lawyerist), so what do I know?

  • Randall Ryder

    I tend to agree with Tyler. As I noted above, too much information can be a bad thing. Even pertinent information, if not expressed in the right tone, can send the wrong message to clients.

    You could argue that excessive details filter potentially troublesome clients, but too much detail can also turn off great clients. That does not seem like a good trade-off.