It is a common lament among lawyers: “Clients constantly call and ask me the same questions. I’m tired of having to repeat myself. What can I do?” The answer lies in understanding and managing clients’ anxiety, communicating proactively, and training clients.
Criminal cases, divorce, and lawsuits are all stressful and can affect the client’s entire life, family or business. This creates anxiety which can result in repeated calls. But these calls are a gift—an opportunity to develop client loyalty. Clients who call constantly are engaged and looking to you for answers. Instead of treating these calls as a nuisance, see what you can learn from them and how you can improve your service.
Think Like Your Client
Every client is different. While one client may be content to hand a matter over and trust you to report back to them when something significant occurs, another client facing the same legal situation may require constant reassurance – especially if nothing is happening.
Constant client calls can occur if the client feels that the time between communications is too long, because they are emotional and need some hand-holding or a sympathetic ear, because the client is so stressed that they can’t retain information, or because they just don’t understand you, but are afraid to admit it.
Set up a secure extranet or website (such as Basecamp), where clients can log in and see documents and status updates any time, anywhere without needing to contact you. Post updates on a regular schedule (ex: Every Monday, every two weeks, etc.) and more often as significant events occur in the case.
Develop a system to update clients regularly not only by phone, but also in writing, regardless of whether anything significant has occurred since the last communication with the client. The client will appreciate that you’re thinking of them and keeping them up to date, and they’ll be reassured that you haven’t forgotten about them or dropped the ball.
Use simple sentences and layman’s terms instead of legal jargon. Ensure that the client understands important points, deadlines and legal concepts by asking the client to rephrase what you said an repeat it back to you – don’t just ask them if they understand.
Train Your Clients
No matter how you communicate, you’ll need to ‘train’ clients. Establish communication policies from the very beginning of the engagement. Find out whether the client prefers telephone calls, emails or regular mail (or some combination). Determine the best times and communications methods for your client, and tell them the best ways to reach you.
Set clients’ expectations regarding your availability. Clients who call at odd hours and receive an immediate response directly from you will get used to reaching you whenever and wherever they want, even if the matter is not urgent.
Don’t answer your own phone. If a client call does not require your legal expertise, let a staff person respond. If the client needs to speak with you about a non-urgent matter, return the call later. You’ll have less interruptions while still meeting the client’s needs.
Prepare for New Clients
Give the client the names, positions and contact information for others in your office with whom they will be interacting. Introduce them to the client to establish familiarity and rapport.
Create a ‘client welcome package’ which includes the communication policy and other firm procedures and policies and definitions of legal terms. Supply a guide outlining the steps involved with information or time lines so that clients will know when to expect progress, and what kind. While you may not be able to predict specific dates or times, you can tell clients what the law requires and what the general practice is in your area.
Setting clients’ expectations at the outset of the engagement, supplying written information and employing proactive communication practices can help combat client anxiety and reduce calls, but some hand holding just goes with the ‘trusted advisor’ territory. Consider it a cost of doing business.