How to Manage Client Expectations without Harming the Relationship

Lawyers find themselves in a tricky space where they need to manage client expectations without harming the relationship. This sound easier said than done.

Lawyers typically look at the merits of a case.  Their expertise and focus is largely on the letter of the law. And yet clients look to them for more than that. Clients want to feel heard and understood. Furthermore, they want to be kept in the picture of progress.

For the client it is much more than providing the cold facts and details. They need to develop a level of trust in the lawyer. They do not rely on the lawyer only having won cases for example. More and more clients want professionals such as lawyers or doctors etc. to “connect” with them at a human level. Clients no longer want to feel like case numbers or income generators!

Few clients are not stressed or off balance when they seek the help of a lawyer. In fact many look to the lawyer to take control of the situation and to provide appropriate guidance based on their expertise.

Clients want to know that the lawyer has been able to get into their head and see a situation from their point of view. Then of course, the lawyer needs to find a way of bringing the realities of the law into the equation. And that may often be contrary to what the client would like to hear.

Unfortunately lawyers are no different to other professionals. There are good lawyers and poor ones. So it is best to do your homework well and find a suitably qualified and experienced one for your specific needs. Many lawyers specialise in different aspects of the law.

So how can a lawyer manage client expectations?

Some guidelines on how to manage client expectations

Lawyers need to make an effort to make a real person to person connection with their client. This is more than being polite and friendly. This means listening to the client, not only the facts. Hear where the client is coming from and what has led to the problem. Understand what the emotions are beneath the facts. Summarise and reflect this back to the client so that they feel understood.

Put yourself in their shoes and get an idea of what they are experiencing. It is important to take time with this step. Some individuals take time to build up a level of trust with others. This means you need to check in more regularly with your client as to how they feel about the process you are following.

You need to consult with them on how they want to be approached. Some clients are more assertive than others. Those who are assertive often want to be given options they can choose from. Those who are less assertive may be comfortable with you playing a stronger role. You will need to guide them based on your experience and what the situation requires.

It is crucial to clarify their needs on the issue so that you will have an idea of how to manage client expectations. As time is of the essence nothing prevents you from asking the client how they would like the process and communication managed.

As an expert on the law you need to provide the client with peace of mind. Call on the expertise of other more experienced colleagues where you are unsure. It is also important that you must be able to assert yourself. You need to be very clear and give strong guidance if the client wants you to follow a direction but you disagree.

It amazes me that lawyers are only assessed on the number of cases and how much business they have written in a month. Nowhere are they asked for feedback on what clients say. Lawyers in the corporate world are assessed formally on various criteria including softer criteria and client feedback!

If you are keen to help change the negative perception of the legal profession and increase business you would benefit from business coaching. The latter would definitely help you learn different ways to manage a client’s expectations.


Posted in Business, Lawyers.