It is probably the most frequent complaint from any client. It is also the easiest thing to avoid. So why are clients complaining that they cannot get in touch with their attorney or can’t get a call back? It’s simple: The lawyer isn’t calling them back.
There are a litany of reasons any attorney can give for why they haven’t called a client back but it’s usually because of the following reasons:
- The client has called every day for the last 3 months.
When this situation occurs, the attorney avoids calling back because he or she has nothing new to report and usually the client is unreasonable. It is extremely important that, at the outset of the attorney client engagement, the life of a case is explained in detail to the client. It is the attorney’s responsibility to prep the client for expectations. More often than not, when a client is calling daily for updates, the attorney has failed to adequately prep the client expectations. A realistic timelines and recoveries are a must. Any attorney making promises or guarantees is not telling the truth. Attorneys should also not be afraid to fire a client. If an attorney agrees to take on a client, then that attorney has agreed to whatever the client needs. If you can’t do that, get out of the relationship. Attorneys cannot be afraid to fire their clients because the truth is the neediest clients usually have the worst cases and end up costing you more than they are worth.
Moral of the story: Prep your clients diligently at the outset. Don’t be afraid to end the relationship.
2. The attorney is delaying the inevitable.
We have all been there—we take a case we don’t really believe in or that does not justify our involvement. The client calls every so often and we make up another excuse as to why nothing has happened: We are waiting on the insurance company, the defense hasn’t responded, is all your treatment completed, etc…. The truth is this: Your case sucks. It’s a bad claim. It’s not worth pursuing. And it doesn’t justify my time. But why can we almost never say those words? Why do attorneys avoid this conversation until the relationship is 1 year in and the client is soured? Frankly, I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense to delay these conversations. So how do you improve it? Case intake is the best time to bring these concerns up. If a client has a bogus claim or a very weak one, they may not know it. That is why they are seeking your advice! Your best bet? Tell them straight up but in a professional manner that they don’t have a claim. This requires time and explanation and some clients will fight you. I have found the best way to explain the case to them is in business terms. Law is a business like any other. Especially contingent fee work, like we do at my firm. Like any business, you must be judicious with your capital and smart with your investments. When we intake a client, we explain that this is now a business decision for them—no amount of money can change the past. No amount of money can fix the injury adequately or replace the loved one. So when you intake a client explain how contingent fee works and why you must be smart with your investments and you cannot invest in something you are not certain you can recover. Most clients understand. They really do. The ones that don’t, well, you don’t want them in the first place.
Moral of the story: If you don’t believe in a case from the outset, say so and pass on it. Better to close the door quickly than let it bleed away.
3. Nothing has actually happened.
Cases move slowly. Weeks and months can pass with little or not movement or developments. However, you have sold yourself to your client as someone who can make things happen, as someone who will make the other side move. So how do you tell your client that nothing is happening? How do you justify your hiring? This can be the most difficult issue faced by an attorney. A client calls every week or two to see what the status is and nothing has happened. The attorney has nothing to report after 3, 4 calls. The client is restless. What do you do? You take the time to speak to the client every single time they call or call them back within 24 hours. Law is a service-based industry. Attorneys represent their clients and serve their needs. This is a partnership between client and attorney, so respect it. When you client calls, they are genuinely interested to find out what is happening. For most, this is their first time through this experience and they have no idea how fast or slow it moves. So you must take every opportunity to assure them that what is happening is expected and not out of the ordinary. Tell them what you are waiting on and why. Too often, as in any relationship, lack of communication causes a breakdown. Never take advantage of an engaged client! Don’t dismiss them; don’t say “oh, they’ll call back next week.” No, they are your client; you agreed to join with them so live up to your word. Use your cell phone and make a 30 second call with an update. There is no excuse why this cannot be done. For those who think this is mundane and repetitive, reconsider your calling (no pun intended). The law is tedious and we all don’t get to broker huge deals every week. The small things matter to clients. Being informed is one of them. So inform them. Make an effort.
Moral of the story: Call your client back every single time. Or tell them you are too busy and they deserve another lawyer.
The preceding are just a few examples of why clients become dissatisfied. But the solutions are available. It just requires effort and preparation. But not every client will be happy—it’s impossible to be all things to all people. So be prepared for an angry client and when you close a file, evaluate what you could improve upon. Its tedious and boring but worth it. The dividends will come. Being a lawyer is not an overnight success. You have to build referral sources and doing so takes time, energy and commitment. It isn’t easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it.