Some Thoughts on Client Expectations

In a recent article in The Young Lawyer, Deanne Koll argues that lawyers can be readily accessible to clients while maintaining a life. Of course they can. But is there any need to be as available as Koll suggests? She argues that it is OK to give out your cell phone number, as long as they understand when to use it: when something cannot wait until the next work day. Koll also believes that if you will be unable to e-mail for a few hours, an auto-responder is necessary.

Are these things really necessary? Or are they an example of ever-expanding client demands that need to be properly corrected by attorneys? I believe it is the latter.

In our world of instant gratification some clients, no matter how sophisticated, expect an immediate response. They want the answer now, and they want it in their medium of choice. Koll suggests that this is exactly what we should give clients. But is that right? Is that the best way to represent our clients? Can we zealously advocate and take the time necessary to do our job when we are essentially Burger King? Or is it in our clients’ best interests to curb their expectations to allow for a more appropriate relationship?

Curbing client expectations will allow lawyers to simply perform better work. It does not take years of experience to understand that. People pay lawyers to help navigate the legal system and get them out of or avoid some dilemma. To do this best we must be analytic. We must think critically, and we must know the law (or where to start learning it). Of course, as experience increases, the amount of time some things take will shrink. But it’s rare that sound legal advice can be given with a moment’s notice. Or at least not well thought out legal advice.

There must also be a balancing act. We cannot take days or weeks to answer simple questions, just to appear as if we are pondering a particular problem.

Which brings us back to the original question of accessibility. If client expectations are appropriately managed, do we need to give a second thought to our accessibility? I don’t believe so. If clients understand how we work and how a healthy attorney/client relationship should look, they will understand when to call and when to e-mail. They will understand that their attorney may not get back to them within the hour. As a result lawyers won’t need to give out cell phone numbers or set auto-responders when stepping into a meeting.

But, if your clients are anything like mine, no amount of expectation management will help. They’ll still try to call at 6AM and then get frustrated when they don’t hear from you until later in the day.

(image: Overbalance between one small figures and one large, which are located on the wooden stake via Shutterstock)

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