Realistic Expectations

The consequences of failing to meet client expectations can be ruinous. Disgruntled clients can leave bad reviews that dissuade others from retaining your services, and they can file complaints with your state’s bar that can lead to disciplinary proceedings. Even if such complaints are dismissed, they represent a distraction from the business of running your firm.

In our experience, setting realistic expectations early and managing them throughout the attorney-client relationship is crucial. Fortunately, doing so need not be tedious or confrontational. Adopting four simple strategies can go a long way toward creating more satisfied clients and insulating yourself from ethics complaints.

1. Review Expectations During the Initial Consultation

First, it can be helpful to dedicate part of your initial consultation with new clients to discuss expectations and set boundaries. Doing so can help both you and the client make a more informed decision regarding whether you are the right attorney to help them with their legal needs. At a bare minimum, you should discuss:

  • How case updates will be communicated to the client
  • How your client can get in touch with you about questions
  • Who your client can expect to communicate with about routine matters
  • How billing and invoices are handled
  • How quickly your client should respond to your requests
  • What you can and cannot do as part of your representation of the client

While going over these expectations verbally is good, consider creating a welcome packet of information for new clients that includes reminders about these expectations. This way, your new client will not be expected to remember everything said during the consultation and can refresh their memory as needed.

2. Remind Clients of These Expectations Through Consistent Enforcement

Some clients will have moments where they forget the expectations and boundaries you set during your initial meeting. Others will deliberately ignore the expectations you set and try to see how willing you are to accommodate what they feel they are entitled to receive from you. 

While the manner and attitude with which you respond to each type of client may differ, you should respond to any breach of the expectations you previously set by reminding them of the boundaries set during the initial consultation. While you do not need to be rude, being firm and professional is appropriate. 

Suppose that you agreed that case updates will be communicated to your client by your paralegal, who can then schedule them for a call with you if they have additional questions. If your client demands to speak with you, your paralegal can gently remind them of how meetings with you are scheduled.

We have found that consistency is important when managing client expectations. Once you make an exception to your boundaries, clients can begin to feel like the exception is the new normal. It may become difficult to reestablish boundaries and realistic expectations once you have made exceptions to them.

3. Readjust Your Expectations and Boundaries as Needed

For every rule, there is an exception. While you should aim to treat all clients equally and fairly, some clients’ cases may demand that you modify your normal expectations and boundaries. 

For example, the way you deal with a client whose spouse suddenly died after a medical mistake will likely look different than the way you deal with a client needing a will or trust drawn up.

Be open to making reasonable modifications to your and your client’s expectations during the course of your representation. Whenever you do make any modification, it is helpful for you to memorialize that modification in writing. This way, you and your client both have a record of what was agreed to.

4. Remember Your Clients’ Expectations of You

The attorney-client relationship is not a one-way street. If you expect your clients to adhere to your expectations of them, it is important that you meet the legitimate expectations they have of you. 

If you do not consistently deliver on your promises to them, then they may feel as though they can disregard the expectations you set for them as well.

One of the biggest expectations you should strive to meet is communicating with your clients regarding their cases. Failing to communicate adequately is a frequent complaint clients have about their attorneys that can lead to ethical complaints. If you made a commitment to speak with your client at certain times, make sure you keep these appointments.

If you realize that you will not be able to meet an expectation you set for yourself, it is best to bring this up with the client as soon as possible. Identify the expectation and why it is no longer realistic, and seek to set a new, more realistic expectation right away.

Clients can get frustrated with their attorney if they feel as though they cannot get the answers they need to questions they have about their cases. 

Sometimes, the answers they seek are ones that a competent and knowledgeable paralegal or legal secretary can provide. Your client does not need you to tell them when their court appearance is or what they should bring to their meeting with you.

Consider investing in quality receptionists and other legal support personnel who can interact effectively, compassionately, and competently with your clients. This involves being able to provide swift answers to routine questions and knowing when your clients should speak with you directly about a concern. 

If your clients frequently receive a response of “I do not know” to routine questions, it will make them more anxious about their cases. As a result, they may be more willing to break the expectations you have for them as they seek the answers they need.

Woven Legal cannot run your law firm for you, but we can assist you in meeting client expectations by pairing you with qualified legal support professionals. From paralegals to legal assistants to client intake specialists, we match you with the virtual support personnel your firm needs to function effectively. 

The professionals we work with are screened and meet Woven Legal’s high qualifications, so you know you are getting a true professional who knows their role and is prepared to assist your firm right away. Book a discovery call with Woven Legal today to learn more about how our services can lead to happier, more satisfied clients.


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