Client Interactions: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff.
We’ve all seen it happen. You have a consult with a quiet, unassuming, conscientious individual. You spend an hour explaining the law, the timeline, and the process, the client signs the retainer, and your new client exits the building.
Fast-forward three months. The client is calling your office constantly asking how much longer, why do I have to [blank], etc etc. You never would have anticipated that this unassuming client would cause this many problems. What happened?
It’s often hard to gauge how difficult a client will be in that first hour. We have to become expert readers of body language, inflection, facial expressions, etc. in order to try and make a determination, and we’re still wrong half the time. So how do you tell right off the bat? Is there a way to do that in the first place? If there is, please share the secret!
What I will say is that Clients often get upset because they don’t understand or fail to comprehend the obligations that the law imposes. A classic is example of this problem is the concepts of liens and subrogation in personal injury cases. I truly believe that some clients are simply unable to grasp the concept, no matter how hard I may try.
However, I often find that the better your explanation is on the front end, the less problems you’re likely to face during the actual representation. I personally like to gauge the quality of my explanation of complicated factual or legal concepts upon how many questions the client asks when I’m done.
“It’s pretty complicated stuff we’re talking about, does that all make sense? Do you have any questions, so far?”, and if I’m doing a good job, the client will have plenty of follow-up questions for me.
On the other hand, when I ask a client if he or she has any questions, and I get an “I-don’t-think-so-not-right-now” response or blank look, that often indicates that the client (i) wasn’t listening or (ii) doesn’t understand and feels overwhelmed by what I just said. Put more succinctly, the quietest prospective clients can often be the ones that raise the most issues down the road.
I would highly recommend engaging potential clients in a manner to ensure that they leave your office with significant more information that when they entered. And you can increase your client’s understanding in a couple different ways: (1) Cut down on the legalese, (2) engage the client by inviting him or her to participate in the conversation, and (3) give them information in small pieces, making sure that you’re understood before you move on.
Your clients should have plenty of questions for you when you’re done with your spiel. Make sure that you’re on the same page from day one, and you’ll eliminate most of those difficult conversations on day ninety.
Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success. Anyone who has ever met Jared will tell you h