Failure to communicate with clients is very frequently cited as the number one reason for bar complaints. Yet time and again attorneys recommit the same client relationship sins. But why? Are lawyers so much different from others? Probably not. But we are governed by stricter rules than most professions. If your cable guy doesn’t show up, you can’t file a complaint with the FCC. And there is no disciplinary board for sales reps.
We know why lawyers actually get in trouble for not communicating with clients. But why do we fail to communicate in the first place? I’ve found that problems crop up in three areas.
Nothing to Report
If client expectations aren’t properly managed, the client likely won’t understand how a case will progress. As a result, clients may expect you to give them updates more often than is necessary. In cases that take months or years to progress, clients may assume that the lawyer has simply forgotten about them.
One of the first pieces of advice I got when opening a firm was “call clients all the time. Even if you have nothing to report.” I’ve seen that some lawyers don’t call clients back because nothing has happened in the case. Based on the number of disciplinary complaints dealing with communication, I think it’s obvious this isn’t a good policy.
Luckily these calls are usually easy. I try to jot a few phone numbers down and return these types of calls on my way home. Since I know there isn’t much to report, I can usually handle the call without the file in front of me. This keeps the business hours free and gives me something to do on the way home.
Bad News to Report
Nobody wants to tell clients bad news. It’s awkward and uncomfortable. So, like anything else we don’t want to do, these things go to the bottom of the to-do list. Luckily, there are ways to make delivering bad news easier.
I’ve found that it’s way too easy to push these kinds of calls down the to-do list. To combat this, I put these phone calls right in my calendar. I’m a slave to my calendar, so that means I know the call is happening on or around that time. That usually keeps it from getting pushed off longer than I (or the client) would like.
There are only so many hours in a day. As a result, we can only return so many calls and send a certain number of letters before we pass out at our desks. AS a result, some things just don’t get done. Without a proper system for tracking these calls and letters, things can fall through the cracks. Moreover, if lawyer’s aren’t efficient with their time, it’s easy to run out of it.
There are plenty of small ways to become more efficient. You can use dictation software so you don’t have to write every letter. You could hire a virtual receptionist to screen your calls. Or you could hire someone part time to come into your office to help with things like scanning and filing all the paper that comes in.
Do you find yourself falling behind in client communication? How do you stay on top of your communication duties? Let’s hear about it in the comments.