Building a strong client relationship
Seasoned trial attorneys often say the key ingredient in a good attorney-client relationship is a sense of mutual cooperation. But how do you establish that kind of relationship?
Managing clients’ expectations is essential in building strong client relationships and retaining loyal clients. To establish relationships that benefit both you and your client, start with a positive attitude and of course good communication. In managing expectations, however, you must also provide your clients with a reasonable assessment of their situation. This involves explaining the scope of your professional relationship and the services you provide. It involves explaining what they should expect in court, what you will do for them and, often, what you will not do for them.
Establish strong client relationships from the get-go
New client relationships can be challenging. You need to identify what type of client you are working with and make a personal connection. You first must get to know one another, build rapport, establish a line of communication, find out what the client’s expectations are and if they align with your own expectations.
For a long-lasting client relationship, it is essential to address the client’s expectations from the first meeting, and then keep investing time in client communication and relationship management. You may need to modify your service to provide the best representation for all your clients.
Identify the client type
It is one thing to identify what kind of person you are dealing with, and another to know how to treat different types of clients. For example, clients that tend to be on the needy side can cause the relationship to be fraught with problems and time-consuming in the long run. Getting these issues in check early on is important to ensure long-lasting client relationships.
Building strong personal connections with all your clients will allow your business to thrive and generate new business. Remember, there is no better publicity than the one that satisfied customers provide when they recommend you. Most top attorneys with successful records have this point covered, but when you focus on building relationships with your existing clients, you will inevitably garner new clients in the process.
People love to over-promise. That may make for happy clients in the moment, but eventually it can leave clients disappointed. Instead, be realistic. Let your clients know that you are willing to go above and beyond, but don’t over-promise. Talk to them about what you hope to achieve for them, and be transparent about the challenges and obstacles involved.
Never delay or avoid discussions about hidden costs
Clients often overlook the cost of litigation beyond just the attorney fees. To maintain a good client relationship, make an honest assessment of potential issues that may come up in the process. Prepare your clients for possible extra expenses when taking a case to trial, including costs for experts and consultants. While moving through litigation, attorneys can realize that they underestimated legal expenses. A case can unforeseeably become more complex or additional work may be necessary. Honest communication about unexpected costs must never be delayed or avoided.
Expectations must be outlined accurately from the very beginning, and then both parties need to deliver on them. The best way to manage or exceed expectations is to make sure they are grounded in reality to avoid disappointment.
Lay out your timeline and deliverables
To improve client satisfaction, respect your client’s time. Lay out a timeline for your client’s project and a list of objectives the project timeline must achieve. Setting clear goals is important for a strong client relationship characterized by mutual cooperation.
Arrange an in-person meeting with the client as soon as possible. This is the best way to establish a strong relationship. Getting to understand your client’s needs and expectations can help you to figure out how to work with them and knock down any obstacles early on.
While building rapport with a potential client is essential, so is achieving your deliverables. Send your client a detailed list of deliverables with realistic deadlines. Review these deliverables with your client one by one and answer questions they may have before moving forward with signing a contract. This will ensure that both of you are on the same page.
Problems can arise when attorneys fail to share knowledge or keep clients informed of new developments in their case. Establishing good communication from day one is a key factor to avoid pain points along the process. Get to know your client’s preferred time to communicate, and reach out to them regularly to stay on top of expectations. Email communication is a great tool, however, phone calls feel more personal and grant you the opportunity to share knowledge and ask for feedback right away. Asking the client how they want to communicate and how often, and then using the channel they prefer is the way to go.
It is really important to be transparent all along the process to give clients confidence. Sharing knowledge in an efficient manner will allow your prospect to understand that they have a role in achieving a common goal. That shared understanding helps lay the groundwork for an honest, transparent relationship going forward. Remember to be clear with clients about what they are going to receive. This is something that can be done when you review the contract. A clear itemized list reviewed over a quick call will provide a great deal of clarity. Honest communication from the get-go is the most important thing.
Treat clients as team members
To make each client feel like a valued team member, include them throughout the process. Go a little beyond project updates. Including the client through regular phone calls gives them space to share ideas, ask for more advice when needed, and participate directly in the development of the project. Naturally, it is essential to establish terms and conditions, indicating the limits that both parties must respect. When you include the client in the process, you reinforce the idea of transparency and generate conditions for strong client relationships.
Learning to say “I don’t know” is extremely important. Contrary to common belief, clients often do not expect a lawyer to know everything. Rather, you might say that you will look into the matter and get back to them with a definite answer. By following this practice, you avoid unrealistic expectations.
Research expenses and set expectations before the trial
Sometimes there are unexpected expenses when a case goes to trial, such as for experts and external consultants. Prepare your clients for potential hidden costs whenever possible and explain why these services are needed to help their case. This is where having laid the groundwork on building strong relationships with your clients will pay off. If you have have established a good relationship, your clients will know they can trust that you have their best interest at heart when you advise them to retain an expert or consult with another person. Too often attorneys tend to defer decisions on trial expenses to the client. While that is the legal and ethical thing to do, clients often don’t have the expertise to know if retaining an expert or consultant will be critical of the case outcome.
You also need to prepare your clients for what they can realistically expect to be awarded in a trial. Having realistic expectations will help you decide together if you should settle or go to trial, and it will give your client confidence before the trial.
How Jury Analyst can help you set expectations
At Jury Analyst, we conduct custom research tailored to each case that can help you gauge the expenses needed for your trial and set realistic expectations for your client.
We work with you to understand the details of your case and develop a neutral summary of the key arguments that can be expected to be brought up in the trial, both by the plaintiff’s and the defendant’s side. Once we have distilled the key arguments, we collect data from the population of potential jurors in your city or county to predict how your actual jury will decide in your trial. We use a big data approach – in other words, we tap “the wisdom of the crowd” – to get a close estimate of the liability and awards in your case. Beyond that … use science We also use virtual focus groups (VFG) to answer questions … help you strategize and present your arguments.
The initial numbers are the very minimum because once the attorney has a group in court to begin voir dire numbers tend to go up due to length of presentations, etc.
Top tips for success
When clients understand the terms, variable outcomes, and risks of a legal proceeding they are better prepared to deal with the results. Managing expectations is a proactive, ongoing effort that will lead to good client relationships. By following these top tips you will avoid pain points with clients in the legal environment.
- Set the playing field by giving an introduction to the legal world and educating clients on how the legal process can be complicated and unpredictable. Don’t forget that for many clients the legal process is new and confusing.
- Discuss the rules of the game to illustrate how the process works. When the client can see the direction you’re headed and the overall plan, they have a clearer picture of what you need from them.
- Discuss all potential outcomes – good and bad. Be upfront about what may or may not happen. It is better to be prepared for a less-than-ideal outcome than to be blindsided.
- Make use of all available resources. Custom research informed by big data and VFGs can help you set realistic expectations for the outcome of your trial.