Effective client communication: it’s a topic that’s not often discussed but which is of the utmost importance. After all, the failure to adequately communicate is one of the top bar complaints lodged against lawyers by their clients. So it makes sense to give some thought to incorporating more effective communications tools and techniques into your client interactions. It’s a simple step that will make you a better lawyer in the long run.
That’s why I’ve written about this topic in the past and why it’s on our list of the Top 10 Things You Didn’t Learn in Law School.
As I explained last year, if you’re interested in learning more about effective client communication skills, the book “Client Science: Advice for Lawyers on Counseling Clients through Bad News and Other Legal Realities” by Marjorie Corman Aaron is a great place to start. In it she offers helpful analysis and recommendations based on scientific studies focused on effective communication techniques, including the following tips:
1. Once you deliver bad news, stop acting like a lawyer. Instead, the next time you deliver bad news to a client, step back, take a deep breath, and give your client some space–and empathy.
2. Your front office can have a big impact. The best way to ensure that you start off every interaction with your clients on a positive note, it’s important to ensure that the gateway to the appointment is pleasant and welcoming.
3. Avoid creating unreasonable client expectations. One of the easiest ways to avoid making this mistake is to avoid mentioning concrete numbers from the very outset.
Of course, even though this topic isn’t frequently discussed doesn’t mean I’m the only one talking about it. For example, California attorney Mitch Jackson has a blog devoted to better communication and recently offered some advice for lawyers seeking to improve interactions with their clients.
According to Mitch, it helps to put yourself in the shoes of the person with whom you’re speaking. In other words, you should try to talk, walk, and even think like like your client. Mitch explains how he put that idea into action when recently meeting with a client who was a football player:
(Use) the “chameleon approach” to increase the chances of actually connecting and developing rapport with others. You are maximizing your first and maybe your only opportunity to build rapport…Don’t try to talk about apples when you’re dealing with oranges. Instead of talking about law and motion, voir dire, and writs of execution, we talked about football and strategy. We each used sports metaphors to clarify issues and develop a winning legal game plan.
Jared Correia also offered some additional tips for better client communication earlier this year at the Attorney at Work blog. Some of his suggestions include frequent, scheduled communication with your clients even if nothing has happened with their case and taking advantage of new technology tools to streamline and improve client communication:
Client communications…what you could be doing:
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a lawyer is only talking to your clients when you need something from them, or when they call to yell at you. Set up a protocol to contact your clients on a recurring pattern, just to check in. Before you call, review the case status, so that you can provide a cogent update and answer any questions that may arise during the course of your conversation. A main ingredient of the vast majority of bar complaints circles around lawyers’ poor communication cycles with clients. I often recommend contacting clients every six weeks. And, I think a phone call is most effective. People receive enough email these days.
Technology…what you could be doing: Explain to your clients how you manage their information. Talk about the specific tools you use, and what those tools do. Tell clients you’re concerned about securing their data, and relay to them the ways you go about doing that. Go through the options you provide for accessing their data and collaborating with you. If they’re accessing data through your services, explain the importance of securing their own access portals, most effectively through the use of strong, privately held passwords.
So what are you waiting for? Try putting a few of these helpful and effective communication tips to use. By putting just a little effort into improving your client interactions, you’ll ultimately be a better, more effective lawyer–and one with happier clients to boot!