A Guide to Better Client Communications

55% of clients prefer to discuss case strategy in person, not by phone.

Most clients would prefer to discuss case strategy with you in person, rather than on the phone or by email. And when they do sit down to confer, they want you to talk to them in plain English, not legalese.

Those are two findings from research on attorney-client relations conducted by law practice management provider Clio.

“Good client communications can make or break your reputation,” writes Clio Blog editor Teresa Matich. “Whether you’re taking on a new client, emailing or calling someone with an update, or sending out a bill, every time you communicate with your client you shape their idea of what it’s like working with your firm. A positive experience can mean the difference between a new business referral and a poor review online.”

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When it comes to client relations, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.

For example: always show empathy. You might have handled hundreds of traffic ticket cases and think they’re no big deal. But for a client who has gotten their first speeding ticket, it might be a very big deal indeed.

Here are seven best practices for client communications, as recommended by Clio:

  1. Communicate clearly and often. “It’s easy for things to get lost in translation, so making a deliberate effort to ensure your client understands what’s going on can go a long way towards avoiding unnecessary back-and-forth or misunderstandings,” writes Matich. “Wherever possible, avoid legal jargon. Default to plain language. Leave an opening for your clients to ask questions about anything they don’t understand (a simple ‘please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions’ at the end of a lengthy email will do).”
  2. Anticipate what your client wants to know. “Communication means more than just providing regular updates on a case. It’s about being proactive so that clients feel truly informed and cared for. For example, get in the habit of answering your clients’ questions preemptively. After client calls or meetings, send a secure message that summarizes what was discussed and provides supplemental info for next steps.”
  3. Set clear expectations from the start. “Specify in your engagement letters how often communications can be expected, what they will entail, and which channels you’re available on (phone, email, text, etc.).”
  4. Let your clients know when you’re available. “The 2018 Legal Trends Report found that 68 percent of clients expect their lawyers to be available outside of the office, and 59 percent expect them to be available outside of business hours. But 39 percent of lawyers say that working outside of business hours negatively affects their personal lives. You’ll serve your clients best when you’re at your best, so setting availability expectations up front is key to ensuring you can care for yourself while meeting your clients’ needs.”
  5. Work on developing your Emotional Intelligence. “Your clients have legal needs, but they have emotional needs as well. This is true for all practice areas. Your ability to ensure your client feels heard, cared for, and enabled to make informed decisions has significant value, so it’s worth keeping your interpersonal skills sharp. As a start, take extra care to watch for visual cues when communicating in person. Stay present. Ask probing questions when you sense there’s more to the story.”
  6. Listen before talking. “Lawyers are paid to give advice. But often what clients really need is for them to first listen. As Irene Leonard of Coaching for Change explains, it’s easy for lawyers to jump in and share their thoughts before they’ve truly understood the problem, which can leave clients feeling as if they’re not truly heard. Irene suggests avoiding interrupting or rehearsing answers while the client is talking, and instead attuning yourself to your clients’ emotions as they speak.”
  7. Know when to automate communications (and when not to). “In the digital age, automating tedious or repetitive processes can be a big win for law firms. However, when it comes to communication, it’s important to be thoughtful and ensure that automated communication is convenient for both you and your client. In general, simple and transactional communications are fine to automate, but more personal and specific communications are best left to humans. And no one likes to hear bad news from a robot. As a rule of thumb, try your best to deliver bad news in person.”

What client communication tips would you add to this list?

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