5 Practical Tips to Improve Attorney Client Relation

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How do you show your clients that you’re committed to their success?

You can tell them that you are, but showing it is a different story.

Building a successful law firm requires happy clients, and while there’s no doubt you’re working hard for them on their legal files or projects, how much of that effort is being put into maintaining strong attorney client relations?

Extra hours spent on a matter are all well and good, but clients don’t see what’s happening behind the scenes. Being communicative, responsive, and setting out expectations from the beginning are what your client will notice and appreciate as your relationship with them progresses.

The risks of not maintaining good relationships with your clients are much more than just negative reviews or a lack of repeat business. Some clients who feel they’ve been wronged could file a complaint against you, potentially affecting your reputation as a lawyer or even resulting in sanctions or disbarment in more severe cases. While each complaint is no doubt carefully examined, taking the necessary steps to avoid complaints through careful management of attorney client relations is the easier path.

After all, if you’re building (or maintaining) a client-centric law firm, strong attorney client relations are paramount to a successful business. So with that said, let’s explore more about how you can improve your interactions with your clients today.

What Exactly is the Lawyer-Client Relationship?

When a lawyer agrees to provide legal services to a client, the lawyer-client relationship is formed. From there, it’s the lawyer’s responsibility to educate the client on the details of the legal services provided.

The lawyer-client relationship itself refers to how well a lawyer is able to effectively interact with their client, as well as manage the client’s expectations surrounding a legal matter. This includes aspects like billing and communications.

Outlining from the beginning when a client can typically expect a response to inquiries, what the legal services will cost them, being on time for client meetings, and actually returning client phone calls and emails are all essential components of managing the relationships that you have with your clients.

Client Lawyer Relationship Ethics & Rules

Client Lawyer Relationship Ethics & Rules

Lawyers and legal professionals everywhere have to abide by a certain code of ethics. While the actual text may vary depending on the location, the overall understanding that a lawyer has to have integrity and conduct themselves above reproach are the main principles that influence both the Canadian and American legal code of ethics.

Both countries are relatively similar in that they both have a federal set of guidelines that influence state and provincial regulations for legal code of conduct, but each province or state ultimately creates its own regulations and rules.

While most lawyers should know these rules inside and out, ensuring that an entire law firm follows them is essential to maintaining good client relationships.

At a high level, the ethics of a good relationship between legal professionals and clients can be summarized as follows:

  • Confidentiality
  • Competency
  • Professionalism

Confidentiality

Everyone that interacts with a client and their legal matter in any way is required to maintain a certain level of confidentiality. This means ensuring that the law firm has processes and procedures in place to keep client information secure, such as keeping your computer password locked when away from your desk, and only discussing a client’s legal matter in private.

Competency

Your legal knowledge and the knowledge of other stakeholders in a client’s case, such as a legal assistant, is paramount for determining how to best help the client and how involved other legal professionals aside from the lawyer working on the case can be. Setting out rules for every step of the process helps to ensure that everyone understands their role in a client case is essential, especially if legal assistants or paralegals are involved.

Professionalism

Maintaining a high standard of professionalism across your law firm is essential. Policies should be in place to protect your legal assistants and paralegals, but also to hold them accountable for all client interactions. Scripts for both phone calls and emails can be helpful to ensure consistency, but overall expectations on how to communicate should be set out from the beginning.

Common Challenges with Lawyer Client Relationship

Common Challenges with Lawyer Client Relationship

Managing the lawyer and client relationship isn’t easy, even with clear guidelines on how to do it effectively.

From the lawyer’s perspective, these three common challenges need to be addressed in order to build a strong relationship with a client:

Pricing

Law firm pricing and the general pricing of legal services have been a hot-button issue for decades. Often the first source of contention in a lawyer and client relationship is billing. Unclear pricing models or using the traditional billable hour mean that clients often don’t know how much the final bill for their legal services is going to be, causing uncertainty from the outset. 

One of the ways that law firms and lawyers have adjusted their pricing to be more client-friendly is by adopting a value based pricing model, or alternative fee arrangements. Pricing models following this line of thinking present easy-to-understand pricing structures to the client, with flat fees for more straightforward services and scope of work fees for more complex projects, similar to what you would see with pricing in other industries.

Communication issues

Communication is everything when it comes to a lawyer-client relationship. Clients want to know what’s happening with their legal matters throughout the entire process. However, it’s common knowledge that lawyers are busy and often simply don’t have the time to call every client or even send them an email updating them on every aspect of a case.

However, it turns out that law firms often have the bad habit of ghosting their clients. According to a survey conducted by Clio that contacted 1,000 U.S. law firms by email, only 60% of those firms actually responded. They also called 500 firms, and more than half of them still hadn’t responded to a voicemail after 3 days.

Of course, law firms are busy, but not contacting clients within a reasonable amount of time sets a bad precedent from the beginning. You obviously don’t want to start your relationship with your client with “sorry for not contacting you sooner” as your opening line.

Time management

It’s no secret that lawyers work very hard and often burn the midnight oil trying to keep client legal matters on track. But one of the most apparent issues that law firms face in general is low utilization rates, which means that efficiency problems are affecting how lawyers and law firms get paid.

According to Clio’s 2021 Legal Trends Report, the average lawyer billed only 2.5 hours (31%) of an 8 hour day, meaning that they either didn’t have enough work or that there are huge inefficiencies with how billable work is outlined and completed.

Evidence that alternative fee arrangements can help fix these discrepancies is popping up, with law firms like DL&Co. seeing higher utilization rates after implementing AFAs and getting the software to manage them effectively.

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5 Tips to Improve the Client Lawyer Relationship

5 Tips to Improve the Client Lawyer Relationship

Knowing how and when to work on improving the lawyer and client relationship rules at your law firm is essential for your business’s success.

Let’s take a closer look at five client-lawyer relationship tips to follow:

1. Take Steps to Build a Good Relationship from the Start

From reaching out to the client early to have a clear pricing and fee structure, first impressions matter when it comes to maintaining positive attorney client relations. This means that when a client reaches out to your law firm for the first time, you’re responding quickly to their request. When the conversation shifts to billing, you have an easy-to-understand breakdown of the costs required to handle their legal matter ready to go.

When it comes right down to it, the fundamentals of building a good client relationship from the start include a commitment to regular communications, honesty, and clarity. This may mean adjusting your law firm’s processes and individual employee responsibilities to ensure that this happens.

2. Legal Client Relationship Management Software for Lawyers

One of the ways that your law firm can make managing client lawyer relationships easier is by seeking out legal client relationship management software for lawyers, otherwise known as a legal CRM. Many industries use this type of software to manage client account details and keep track of communications between salespeople and clients, so why not use it for your law firm?

NEXL is an example of legal CRM software that helps you attract and retain clients.

3. Listen to the Client

It can be tempting to interject with your expertise on a subject or correct a client when they make an incorrect assertion, but in order to learn the most about your client and their legal issue, listening first and asking questions later is often the best way forward. If you interrupt or otherwise say something that detracts from the original conversation, it could mean that critical detail is missed that could affect the outcome of the client’s legal matter.

4. Provide Clear and Consistent Advice

This tip builds off of taking the time to listen to your client. If you go off of the information that your client provides, you’ll be better equipped to provide clear and consistent advice throughout their legal matter. Backtracking on previous advice not only looks bad for you, but it could also affect the outcome of your client’s case. A legal CRM can help with this, as it provides one place where you can get a quick overview of a client’s case and review past communications.

5. Make Communication a Priority

Effective communication between lawyer and client is a critical factor for building client trust and a strong lawyer relationship with a client. Lawyers are busy, sure, but taking the time to send a quick email update is often all that is needed to maintain the level of communication that a client expects.

Legal software (often a CRM) that provides automated responses when certain parameters are met (like a document being received by a regulatory agency, for example) can help ease some of the communication burdens for lawyers, so it should be taken advantage of whenever possible.

Lawyer and Client Relationship Best Practices

From seeking out new clients to maintaining the attorney client relations that your law firm already has, creating positive connections with clients directly impacts your business for the better.

Here are some client-lawyer relationship best practices to follow:

Set Out Expectations at the Beginning

Before you get into the nitty-gritty of a client’s legal matter, it’s important to set out expectations with regards to your skillset, pricing, and communications at the beginning.

The goal is to prevent confusion while at the same time setting boundaries with the client that should be respected throughout the transaction from both sides. It’s unreasonable to expect immediate responses to every inquiry, for example, so telling your client that you’ll respond within a time frame that works for you, let’s say 1-2 business days, sets out that expectation for them from the beginning.

Pricing and billing, especially if your law firm uses an AFA model and has adequate software to manage it, work in the same way: you can provide your client with an outline of what their legal services will cost, and discuss any specifics where fees might change (e.g. drafting a legal document but then several revisions need to be made outside of the originally agreed upon scope).

This way, your client will walk away from your first meeting with you feeling confident about how their legal matter is going to move forward.

Make an Effort to Understand

Clients come from all walks of life, and although some legal issues may be similar to others, there could be nuances that differentiate one legal issue from another. In addition, while it might be easier to understand a client with an individual legal issue if your client is an organization, you might be dealing with multiple stakeholders and a unique industry vertical. Taking the time to research, ask questions, and gain a comprehensive understanding of your client will show them that you care about their legal matters and your relationship with them.

Be Honest

Sometimes clients may contact you with an issue that’s outside of your area of expertise, or you might be unsure of how to answer a question that they have because of recent legislation changes, for example. It’s better to admit that you need time to research a subject or look into a matter further before giving a firm answer rather than giving an answer and later finding out it was wrong.

In addition, it’s important to maintain fully transparent communications throughout a client’s legal process. If something happens that isn’t in the client’s favor, let them know. The client will likely appreciate the honest communication even if the matter doesn’t go their way.

Take the Time to Educate your Clients

Oftentimes clients seeking legal help have never done it before, and don’t have experience dealing with the law. This means they may not have an idea of what information to give you that would help their case. This is where educating your clients comes into play.

For example, let’s say you have an ongoing real estate client that deals with buying and selling homes. A colleague informs you that there have been recent legislation changes with regards to real estate in your area, and you realize that this change directly affects your client. You can use this opportunity to reach out to your client and educate them on the new changes, and even describe how they would affect their typical dealings with you. This helps build a positive client relationship while at the same time working to streamline future dealings with the client, as they will be better equipped to provide you with what you need to proceed with their typical legal matters.

Additional Q&A

Q&A

Some additional general questions and answers surrounding the topic of lawyer-client relationships are outlined below. Because let’s face it, a quick refresher never hurts.

 

What’s the best way for a lawyer to deal with an unreasonable client?

The first way you can deal with an unreasonable client is to take the time to understand the situation from their perspective. Seeking legal counsel can be scary, stressful, and overwhelming, especially if the client has never done so before or is doing so because of a difficult situation. In addition, providing education is also helpful. Explain the process to them in a clear and concise manner, even if you have to do so multiple times.

Finally, set boundaries and expectations. If they are abusive towards staff or otherwise belligerent, for instance, that could be grounds for immediate termination of the relationship. Other boundaries include expectations for email or voicemail responses, after-hours correspondence, and when additional fees may be charged.

How can law firms attract new clients?

Law firms can attract new clients in several ways, including asking for referrals from happy clients, using inbound marketing campaigns, and continually placing a focus on client experience. If you have happy clients, asking them to refer their friends, family, colleagues, or acquaintances to your law firm works wonders for driving business. In other industries, referrals are often used to attract and retain clients with great success. Inbound marketing campaigns, such as blog writing and lead generation campaigns, help attract clients interested in legal services to your law firm’s website.

What is a client-centered law firm?

When you put the client experience at the core of your law firm’s operations, you’re running a client-centered law firm. This means you can effectively put yourself in the client’s shoes and understand the emotions and reservations that they may have when needing to seek legal counsel, and build your law firm’s approach to client care based on that principle.

How do lawyers maintain client relationships?

Lawyers can maintain client relationships by being honest, acting within the client’s best interests, and setting out expectations for how a legal matter will be handled from the beginning. As recent trends have shown, part of this means being flexible with working conditions (either a fully remote or hybrid environment) and being willing and able to meet with clients virtually instead of in person.

Conclusion

Law firms and legal professionals that are committed to client success must take relationship management between client and lawyer seriously.

It may not always be easy to build strong client relationships, but it can be made easier by following practical rules:

  • Setting out expectations with regards to pricing, communications, and expertise level from the beginning
  • Managing your time effectively
  • Using software such as a legal CRM to help manage client information
  • Listening to the client
  • Making regular communication with the client a priority
  • Providing clear and consistent advice
  • Educating the client as needed

Part of maintaining strong client relationships in a legal setting is by providing clear pricing. If you’re one of the many law firms already using or considering an AFA pricing model, then check out AltFee’s software. Built from the ground up by lawyers, AltFee aims to make the process of collaborating and managing your AFAs simple.

Get Started Today

Spend more time practicing the law with the only all-in-one legal pricing and collaboration tool. With an intuitive interface and straightforward navigation, AltFee maximizes your legal pricing workflow, improving the efficiency of your law firm.

Get A Demo
Altfee: Get A Demo