Demanding clients are business as usual in the legal industry and dealing with their at times unreasonable expectations is just part of the job. How can you manage their potentially unrealistic expectations, live up to them (if you can and should), and still maintain your sanity? Here are 5 possible ways:
1. Find out exactly what their expectations are – early on
Even the best legal service won’t be good enough if your client’s expectations are unrealistic. To avoid being held to expectations that are impractical and often impossible, ask your client the following questions at the initial consultation:
- What exactly do they want you to do for them?
- What do they expect to pay for legal representation?
- What role are they willing to play with regard to their case?
- What is their acceptable response time regarding communications with you?
- What are their main objectives for filing the lawsuit?
- What is their timetable for resolution of the matter?
Once you have an understanding of what your clients’ expectations are regarding you as well as their case, you are equipped to either move forward or decline representation if you determine that their expectations are too unrealistic and will not likely change in the short or long term.
2. Restructure their hopes, whenever and wherever necessary
When you decide to offer representation to a client, you are responsible for tactfully setting them straight regarding any unworkable expectations that they might have, and clearly explaining exactly what you can realistically be expected to do for them. While doing so, take the time to patiently explain the probable outcomes and time frames related to their case.
If necessary, identify problems regarding the course of action that they believe should be followed and emphasize the advantages of following the course you recommend. Once your client’s expectations are reasonable and you have a good understanding of them, it will be much easier for you to meet (and maybe even exceed) them.
3. Revisit their goals as often as needed
As helpful as the initial consultation can be, don’t make the mistake of relying too heavily upon it. As the case unfolds, you will likely find it necessary to keep the lines of communication open by staying in touch with your client so that you can reassess their ever-changing emotions and expectations and make adjustments along the way.
This will put you on the offensive rather than the defensive, able to not only continually keep your clients expectations in check before they get out of hand, but also allow you to leverage what you learn from them to improve the quality of your representation.
4. Temper your own expectations regarding your clients
Legal professionals are often quite rule-driven and have clear codes of conduct that they believe everyone, including their own clients, should follow. But most clients experience a certain degree of anxiety as their case progresses, and as a result, their behavior sometimes falls outside their attorney’s expectations. Instead of getting angry at difficult clients, try to accept the fact that practicing law is a service business and you’ll have to take your clients the way they are. The key is to remember that their fear often has little or nothing to do with the quality of your work, and instead is often rooted in their lack of understanding regarding the legal system.
5. Explore ways to gain client trust
Since a major source of anxiety is fear of the unknown and many clients have little or no experience with the legal system, you can manage their expectations and enhance your mutual relationship by patiently guiding them through the process, providing genuine reassurance and plenty of one-on-one attention to ensure that they thoroughly understand the issues involved in their case.
Because clients who trust you are typically easier to work with than those who don’t, it is important to nurture their trust and peace of mind, particularly those with elevated stress levels.
Do you know of other ways to manage, meet, and even exceed the expectations of legal clients? Tell us about them in the comments!