After practicing for 39 years I have discovered some very important things about keeping clients satisfied in trial work. Here are some tips.
By William Geary, Family Lawyer
Treat the Client Like a Real Person
Clients don’t know what to expect when they are attempting to choose an attorney, nor what to expect when they first meet an attorney. In choosing an attorney they seem to rely upon referrals from friends and family who may have dealt with an attorney, or may know an attorney personally. Some read internet reviews from former clients. Even with a referral to an attorney, clients still don’t know what to expect when they first meet with the attorney.
Complaints that I have heard about attorneys usually involve “feelings” that the clients have had that the attorney does not care about them and is more interested in being friends with other attorneys, or vacationing or golfing, etc.
When you first meet with your client, or potential client, it is important that you make them feel at ease and make them confident that you are interested in their case and can help them. Treat the client like a real person—since that is what they are. Don’t assign the initial contact to a secretary or paralegal to gather information, etc. Meet with this person and engage them!
New clients (and existing clients) deserve your attention, your interest, and your empathy. Don’t just listen to what they have to say and then not respond or interact with them on how the system works or what you can or can’t do for them. Many clients who come to an attorney have absolutely no idea of what to expect from the legal situation in which they are involved. It is your job and obligation to “map out” what is going on, what types of hearings might be involved, what the hearings are for, and what types of preparation, expert involvement, discovery and time their case may take. A new client will usually have no idea of what to expect in his/her situation and will feel much better when they know what the “rules” are and what is or is not important. A new client needs to know what experience you have had in his/her type of case and you should let them know not only about your successes but also about your “losses.”
Most family law situations will come down to a decision by a judge or magistrate. If the judge and magistrate for the new client’s case are already known, you may be able to inform the client about that particular judge’s or magistrate’s handing of other similar cases. If there is no judge or magistrate yet, you will have to let the client know about the possibly wide range of things which may happen in their situation. A new client should leave an initial consultation with you in an oriented and informed state. A new client should leave an initial consultation with you knowing that you can handle their situation and that you will handle their situation.
Involve the Client
Consider for a moment attempting to create a temporary orders affidavit where the client wants custody and child support, but think about doing that only via email with the client. Too many attorneys attempt to “communicate” with clients through email and mostly email. Think about the same situation– attempting to create a temporary orders affidavit where the client wants custody and child support, but with the client sitting in your office with you as you create the affidavit. When you and the client are working together not only does the product of your work turn out better but the actual creation of that product will take much less time and the client will be fully aware of why the time billed was spent.
You can be guaranteed that if you have to work for three hours on something and this work only results in one written page, your client will potentially be outraged at the time billed compared to the product produced. Think about a situation where you and your client have worked together, for the same amount of time, creating the same page and the client has been there and seen what work went into that one page. In the second situation here, where the client has been present and working with you, you can pretty much be guaranteed that you will not hear a complaint.
Obviously, my position is that working closely with your client not only produces better pleadings, motions, affidavits, etc. but it also produces a happier and better informed client. Working closely with the client like this also keeps the client involved in the case and more importantly, informed about the case, the issues of the case, and the progress of the case. In many cases, when records need to be obtained or charts and graphs (even spreadsheets) have to be created, we have the client do these for all of the reasons I just mentioned.
Start Trial Preparation at the Beginning (the First Day)
When it is time to get ready for trial, do you really want to go through 200 emails, your 14 files on the client, and the 34 inches of papers from discovery to see what might be relevant. Or would you rather be “pre” prepared?
Starting a Pretrial Statement for your case, from day one, will help keep track of issues, witnesses, and potential exhibits as the case progresses. Starting a Trial Notebook on day one and putting relevant reports, bills, appraisals, emails, texts and other information in it for “possible” use as exhibits, will also help easily keep track of things. It will be easier, when preparing for trial, to take some of the potential exhibits out of the Trial Notebook than it would be to start searching for them. Starting “notes” for trial on day one, even pasting in copies of relevant exhibits from your trial notebook (emails, etc.) as you go along will make trial preparation a lot easier. Again it is better to be removing things to get ready for trial than trying to find things.
Pre-Preparation and Client Involvement Equal a Happy Client and Better Lawyering
All of the organization things which I have mentioned here will also make you able to more quickly respond to questions from the court, opposing counsel, and your client along the way. Also, if the client sees the trial notebooks growing with exhibits of affidavits, temporary orders, pleadings, reports, emails, spreadsheets, copies of texts and copies of photos, he/she will have confidence in you and that you will be ready for the case.
William Geary has offices in Columbus, Ohio and has been in practice since 1979. He limits his practice to family law matters and is licensed to practice in Ohio and in the Federal Courts for the Southern District of Ohio as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. www.columbusfamilylawyer.com
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