Six Things That Will Make Your Clients Hate You
In most circumstances clients seek out legal representation because something big, scary and important is happening in their lives. They are depending on you to help them through whatever circumstances they are now facing. No pressure, right? We all know how to make our clients love us: win the case! But here are 6 things that will make your clients hate you:
Biting off more than you can chew. You sit down with a potential client to discuss their case. From the outset, you know that you do not have the knowledge or experience to help them with this particular issue. If you know that a case is going to be too complex or time-consuming for you to handle, do not hire that client!
Tap into your network of other attorneys and refer the client to someone who may better assist them with their case. Accepting a case that you are not qualified to handle is not only contrary to the Rules of Professional Conduct, but it also just kicks the can down the road to the time when you ultimately must inform them that you will not be able to help them. They will be disappointed that you were not able to help them and that they must start new with a different attorney.
Failing to listen. By the time a client has reached your office for the first time, they have often repeated their “story” more than once. Depending on why they are seeking an attorney, their story may be emotionally charged, scary or traumatic. Listen. Take notes if you need to. Keep these notes in a convenient location in the case file so that you can mentally refresh yourself before returning their call or sitting down for a follow-up meeting. Don’t make the mistake of requiring your client to frequently repeat the basic details of their case on each occasion that you speak with them. Your client will hate feeling so unimportant that you cannot even remember what they hired your law firm to work on.
Failing to believe in your client or their case. The degree to which this will make a client hate you varies, depending on their personality. Some clients just want to feel heard and to have a hand to hold. Some want a bulldog who is ready for a fight. Either way, reassure them that, no matter their situation, you will do everything you can to advocate on their behalf. Let them know that you believe in them and their case. Your client will hate you if they think you’re wasting their time or money by pursuing a case that you don’t believe could be successful.
Making promises you can’t keep. Of course you have not made any promises to your client about the outcome of their case, but maybe you’ve made other, smaller promises. For instance, “I’ll have those documents to you no later than Friday,” or, “We’ll have everything wrapped up in six weeks or less.” If you can keep these promises, then by all means, make them. But be aware that when you break promises to your clients, they lose confidence in you. If you break enough promises, you will have chipped away at their trust, which is not easily repaired.
Failing to communicate. Nothing will make a client hate you faster than failing to communicate with them. Clients are entrusting you to represent their interests. Depending on why they’ve hired you, these interests may have great personal or financial worth. A client does not want to feel like they are no longer important once you’ve signed them on. Return phone calls and emails. Get crazy and call a client unsolicited with an update. They will appreciate it and be comforted that you are thinking of them and their case.
Under-preparing your client. Nobody likes to be blindsided by the unknown. This is especially true when guiding a client through a legal matter. Make sure your client understands the process. Explain the steps, what you will be doing next and what that means for them. Spend time preparing them for their hearing, deposition or cross-examination. If a client feels underprepared for the next step in their case, they will think you are also underprepared. You will lose credibility with your client, and they are more likely to think that you’re not taking their case seriously.
Making your client hate you is easy to avoid. And by avoiding these mistakes, you’ll successfully stay within the ethical bounds of providing competent, diligent and communicative legal representation.
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