OSB Professional Liability Fund

Managing Client Expectations

June 29, 2018
by Rachel Edwards

Communication is an important part of establishing and maintaining good relationships with your clients. Most if not all attorneys have represented a client who became upset after not receiving an immediate response to an email or phone call, even if the expected turnaround time is unrealistic. Managing client expectations about how you communicate can avoid the stress of miscommunication or clients feeling neglected.

Establish Realistic Expectations

Know your practice and your limits. Create a communication policy you can follow. Whether it be a promise to return a phone call or email, or the days and times when you are most available, establish realistic expectations that you can meet.

Create a Written Policy

Prior to engagement with a client, specify your availability. Clients should know the best times to reach you. If you’re unavailable, to the best of your ability determine when you will get back to them. It is human nature for clients to assume that their case is of the highest priority; thus, clients often forget that you have other cases needing your attention. Establish a communication policy from the start so clients know there will be times when you cannot respond to their request immediately, but they will know when to expect a response. You could include this policy in the fee agreement, the engagement letter, or a separate letter. You may also want to specify what you expect from your clients in explaining their inquiry. For example, advise them to provide sufficient detail about their question, rather than “Please call me as soon as possible.” This allows you to determine the urgency of the inquiry and avoid the stress of the unknown.
  • Phone. Specify in your voicemail when you will return calls. If you will be out of the office and know you cannot return calls immediately, update your voicemail so clients know your availability. Return phone calls even if it is only to schedule a different time to talk. This lets the client know you are thinking about them and their case.
  • Email. The same practice applies to your email. Create an autoreply if you will be out of the office. You could also include your communication policy in your email signature line.

Provide Regular Updates

Provide regular updates to your clients about their case. This practice creates a sense of involvement for your client, and they may be less inclined to seek information from you if you have kept them in the loop. Consider sending documents to clients with a “transmittal memo” explaining the document, and schedule a follow-up meeting if necessary. Also send status reports to your clients on a regular basis, preferably monthly. These can include items like upcoming court appearances, information or documents you need from the client, and billing information. Even if the report contains no new information, clients still appreciate knowing that you’re thinking about their case. Using templates will make the process more efficient and provide clients necessary and timely communication. Go to our website for a sample transmittal memo and status report at www.osbplf.org > Practice Management > Category > Client Relations.