As cases and matters pile up, so too can the digital and paper files in any law office. Some people thrive in this chaos — and that’s amazing — but for those who don’t, a lack of organization can be a real danger to your practice. This is especially true when it comes to maintaining the attorney-client relationship.
Imagine the scenario where a client desperately needs to speak with her attorney. She calls the attorney’s office and cell phones—the voice message systems are both full. She sends an email—the attorney has so many unopened emails in his inbox that the message is missed. She drops off a package of documents at the attorney’s office—even though his assistant places it on his office chair, he tosses it on top of the massive piles on his desk and then forgets about it.
Obviously, the attorney in this example is extremely busy. He is also dangerously close to committing malpractice. So, what can he do to organize his work life so he can meet client expectations with regard to communications and case handling? Here are our favorite tips for getting your practice — and your client relationships — back in order.
#1: Get on top of your inbox and stay there
While email is undoubtedly a convenient form of communication, it is often so convenient that people use it to over-communicate. For example, every time someone sends an email that simply says “thanks,” that’s just another file that we have to deal with. Too many of those types of emails and the next thing you know, you can miss the important stuff.
There’s lots of advice out there on how to organize your email files. As a rule of thumb,
- Respond to it if needed, especially if the sender asked for you to confirm or acknowledge something. Ask for clarification right away if you’re unsure.
- File it away if it’s something that needs no action, but still should be saved.
- Forward it on right away if it’s something that should get seen by another member of your team, or if you were not the intended recipient.
- Make it a task if it’s a project that needs more in-depth attention. But make sure that the task is prominent and specific enough that you know for sure what your next steps are.
- Delete it if it’s something that you are certain you will no longer need.
Here’s another tip you won’t see in most of those lists: having a standing agreement with clients and colleagues that you are thankful for one another. No need to send short niceties via email. Save your inbox for things that really matter.
#2: Schedule your phone calls
Some clients need more communication than others, like that client who calls multiple times a day. And it’s understandable. Legal matters can produce all kinds of anxiety, especially when it’s not what you do for a living. Nonetheless, endless, repetitive phone calls can be a great distraction for the attorney and a great expense for the client.
A good way to handle these clients is to schedule regular phone calls with them. Make sure each call has a defined start time and end time. You can also take a few steps to increase the efficiency of your scheduled calls: things like making (or requesting) an agenda ahead of time and having the client email questions before the call can go a long way toward increasing efficiency and time organization.
#3: Organize your office and keep it that way
The attorney in the above example suffered from a lot of disorganization — but the physical disorganization of his office was probably making everything else worse. The problem is, the busier you are, the messier your office gets and the harder it is to find the time to clean it.
Here’s the critical tip for this issue: just do it. Even if you have to come in on a weekend or enlist the help of an intern, find a method of organization that works for you, perform one massive purge, and then stick to it.
#4: Help your clients help you
Often, legal matters call for the client to deliver a great volume of documents or other materials to the attorney. One of the worst things that can happen as an attorney is that your client simply dumps off several boxes of documents that are not organized in any discernible fashion. If you have to wade through all that stuff, it is going to drive you crazy and cost your client a ton of money.
To save you both the frustration, tell your client ahead of time what sort of organization on her end will make your job more efficient. Even if she simply organizes documents by year or subject matter, that organization will save you time and enhance your ongoing relationship.
#5: Pay attention to the lawyer-client relationship
This may not sound like an organizational tip but it really is. Lawyers and clients who communicate effectively and maintain a healthy professional relationship tend to be the most successful. So, what does the optimal attorney-client relationship look like?
Honestly, it looks like many other healthy relationships in life. It involves things like honesty, communication, boundaries, and the ability to safely share disappointments and move on from them. If you can organize every client relationship around these principles, you’re likely to have a long and successful legal career.
Do you have additional tips about organization processes that improve your relationships with clients? Is so, we’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.