The storyline of Charles Dickens' "Bleak House" is the division of property between the members of the Jarndyce family. It has been going on for many years and even the lawyers got lost in it. Another witnesses are called, new hearings are held and new, enormous volumes of court records are created. However, the matter is not approaching the finals at all. It even seems that with each successive witness the trial becomes more and more complicated. During long years of litigation, court costs systematically deplete the fortune. The trial is like a curse: it destroys love and mutual trust, leads to the collapse of its parties and those who accidentally come into contact with the trial. Finally, after almost 800 pages of the book, lawyers inform the parties that the case is over, because everything has been spent on their fees.
It is sometimes said that if someone has a legal problem, it means that he has one problem. If he hires a lawyer, he has two problems. Let's break this stereotype!
What does your client not like?
Clients do not like lawyers who make promises they can not keep, who boast, who speak a legal jargon, who are pompous and condescending, who talk too much and who listen too little. Clients hate to fight for lawyers' attention. When you talk to a client, knocking on your office door or calling the phone will make the client feel unkempt. Saying a client wait is a sign of disrespect. Your client may not know if you have an operational knowledge for a meeting with which you are late, but he will certainly understand that you are not taking care of his needs.
Negative client feelings may be a consequence of poor communication - not informing the client, not listening to the client and not focusing on his needs, showing arrogance, making decisions without obtaining the client's consent, as well as providing unclear advice.
Studies have shown that lawyers who rarely or badly communicate with their clients have more disputes regarding payment for services and are more likely to be the target of disciplinary bodies. Similarly, the way in which doctors talk to patients determines the most how often doctors are sued for mistakes. Those who devote time and make efforts to meet the patient's thoughts and feelings are sought less often than those who do not, regardless of the number and severity of mistakes made by doctors in diagnosis and treatment.
Remember that a lawyer should adequately inform the client about the status of the case and respond immediately to his requests for information. The less a client knows about what is happening in his case, the more he is concerned and the less he feels sympathy with you.
Many lawyers do not explain to clients what will happen in court. Clients reach the court unaware of what and why is happening there and what the consequences may be. They probably feel like furniture then. They experience the court system as an unpleasant bureaucracy that the lawyers are involved in.
Clients especially hate the notknowing of how much the legal service will cost them. Corporations can provide a budget for legal services. Clients who are natural persons usually do not have such opportunities, so clear information about costs is particularly important to them.
Note that some of the behaviours that lawyers usually consider to be a manifestation of competence are in fact considered by clients to be a sign of their incompetence.
What does your client like?
Of course, the client will appreciate if you do not do anything as described above. And of course, every client wants a lawyer who wins the process or otherwise provides a good result. Obtaining results, however, is not the most important factor of the client's assessment. The most important factor is how the client experiences work with a lawyer. Many lawyers measure customer satisfaction with the result achieved. However, the research has provided impressive evidence that clients assess the competence of their lawyers more in relation to the representation process than the outcome of the case.
Clients like lawyers who listen, hear and understand. One of the most powerful forces in dealing with people is the ability to listen. First of all, you need empathy to look at the world through the eyes of your client.
Your client wants you to talk to him with respect and using a simple language.
Your client will like a good human being in you - emotionally intelligent, mature and honest - who is able to do a high quality legal job. Everyone wants such a lawyer.
How to work with a client?
When answering clients questions, do not give answers that make sense for you. Provide an answer that makes sense for the client and make sure that the client understands what you said. Ineffective lawyers throw quick answers to clients questions and then switch to something else, as if the client’s concerns were marginal to them. Clients will always notice it, although they will not react to it. Clients do not want to fight against their lawyers, but when they reach a certain threshold of dissatisfaction they will go somewhere else.
During communication with the client, speak and write in simple language. If you must use a legal term, explain its meaning without being patronizing. Use a specific, precise language, not generalities. Behave in a way that will encourage the client to both say what you need to know and to ask questions about issues that concern him. Above all, be a good listener.
When the client calls you, if you can not go to the phone immediately, call back within a few hours, or if you are in court and can not talk, ask your colleague to contact your client. The office should be available and respond when needed.
If you invite a client to the office, introduce him to the persons who will work on his case, including the secretary. If this is not obvious, explain to the client the role that each of these people will play.
Send the client copies of all court documents and correspondence with other people regarding his case, unless you have agreed otherwise or there are special reasons not to do so. Whenever a document is not obvious to your client as a layman, explain to him why it was created and what its meaning is.
Get to know your client so that you can understand what he really needs from you. For example, how much is he willing to risk. The client will have to live with the effects of your actions long after you disappear from his horizon. If the client is an entrepreneur, get to know the specifics of the industry in which he operates. If you do not want to ask him directly, go to the library and find books about the branch. Look for the relevant business magazines. Search for thematic articles on the internet. Visit a client's place to sense him physically and organisationally.
Large corporations employ law firms to solve problems that are usually measurable in financial terms. From the point of view of such a client, a given case can be a pure business transaction without any emotional content - then the only concern is performance and efficiency. But natural persons and small entrepreneurs go to lawyers for two reasons. The first is to solve a problem that can be measurable in financial terms. The second reason is to seek relief from fear and pain. From the perspective of such a client, you are responsible for how he will deal with these negative emotions. So if you want your client to recommend you to his friends and neighbors, you must be able to neutralize his fear and pain.
Your client will fall in love with your legal services when you:
1. get a good result;
2. are effective, both in terms of time and costs;
3. can reduce his fear and frustration while waiting for the result;
4. prove to be a caring, nice human being with whom it is pleasant to work.
You may also like:
S. Krieger, R. Neumann, Essential Lawyering Skills, Wolters Kluwer 2015.
C. Cunningham, What Do Clients Want from Their Lawyers?, J. Disp. Resol. 2013, 143.
C. Dickens, Samotnia. Tom I, Zysk i s-ka 2018.
C. Dickens, Samotnia. Tom II, Zysk i s-ka 2018.