Clients come to lawyers with two levels of concern or two kinds of anxiety: substantive anxiety and process anxiety. Providing excellent client service means knowing how to work with clients to reduce both kinds of anxiety. Often, it is this kind of hand-holding that is more valuable than the legal services themselves.
Substantive anxiety is the anxiety clients have about their legal matter itself and about whether or not they will be able to reach their desired outcome. The law is new to (most) clients and they do not know what will happen. They want a lawyer who is an expert and who can navigate the ins and outs of the law to get to their desired conclusion.
Substantive anxiety results in clients asking questions such as: Will I go to jail? Will my children be protected financially in the event of my death? What is my case worth? How will my business be affected by this lawsuit? Will I lose my house as a result of my divorce?
Generally, lawyers are good at addressing issues that fall under substantive anxiety with their clients. Most lawyers are comfortable with the law and know how to talk to their clients about these issues. And if they don’t know the answers themselves (or the possible outcomes), they know where to go to find the answers.
Clients have concerns not only about the law and the outcome of their matter, but also about the process itself. Sometimes this process anxiety is even more distracting and disconcerting for the client than the substantive legal issues, and frequently the ‘hand-holding’ that is required to deal with these issues is the kind of work that lawyers avoid, not realizing the potential it has to strengthen the client relationship.
Process anxiety encompasses everything from what stages the case will go through from initiation through conclusion to how fees will be charged and how clients will be expected to pay their bills. To most clients, a legal matter is like a foreign country, with strange language, different customs and a whole new set of rules. Clients get nervous about when things will happen (how long will it be before we get a response from opposing counsel?), what steps to take (how should I protect myself?), who else will be present (will my spouse be at the deposition?), and what will be expected of them (will I have to testify?).
Often, lawyers forget to address their clients’ concerns about process-related issues, or don’t fully appreciate the level of anxiety these issues can and do cause for their clients, in part because lawyers live in this world every day, and they are used to the customs and practices. Most lawyers forget that their clients are not familiar with the process and may be uninformed (or worse, misinformed) about what actually happens throughout their matter.
Addressing Client Concerns
Part of providing an exceptional client experience is knowing and anticipating your clients’ concerns, fears and anxieties. Ask clients if they have questions. Encourage them to ask, even if they think they ‘should’ know the answers. Post FAQs on your website or blog that deal not only with substantive legal issues, but with the legal process itself. Provide clients with checklists or other information that will help them to help you provide them with excellent representation. Develop a client welcome package that addresses some of these common concerns.
Review your intake procedure, website, blog, marketing materials and service offerings to ensure that you are addressing not only your clients’ common legal questions, but their underlying process anxiety as well.
In addition to the welcome package, what other steps can you take to reduce your clients’ concerns about the process? Take them to court and show them the courtroom, the parking facilities and the location of the restrooms (often overlooked, but useful pieces of information). Explain who will be present for a hearing, a real estate closing, or a will signing, and what their roles will be. Will this be a formal proceeding or an informal one? Will it be recorded? What will the room look like? What time do they need to arrive? How should they be dressed? What should (or shouldn’t) they bring with them?
The more comfortable the client is with their surroundings and the process, the better they’ll be able to assist you in their representation.