Client Needs vs Wants
Successful lawyers must find out not only what clients need, but also what they want. Only when needs and wants are understood can you shape your assessment of the services to provide. If needs and wants are in harmony and you inform the client of what to expect, there is little likelihood of disagreement or a problem in the engagement. The lawyer who does this is proactively managing client expectations.
The obligation to promote quality communication between attorney and client and to assure that the client has a good understanding of what to expect lies squarely with the attorney, as part of his or her professional responsibility.
Essentials of Good Communication
Always have a signed engagement letter for a new client, stating as much information as possible about the parties, issues, anticipated strategies, desired outcomes and how much the client wants to pay.
Beware of clients who cannot or will not agree to what they want their lawyer to accomplish. Such clients will often be future sources of last minute complaints or emergencies that at best are irritating and at worst can result in errors under pressure.
Help clients understand that the fee they are charged meets the requirement of being “reasonable” under Rule 1.5, reflecting the lawyer’s skill and experience.
Establish a budget for the engagement that provides common sense estimates of both the time and the expense that the engagement is likely to involve, making it clear that these are estimates and not guarantees. Be sure to communicate constantly about progress in comparison to budget.
Consider offering a “performance guarantee” of items within the lawyer’s control, such as the level of service or an offer to adjust the fee if the client is not satisfied. This can reduce clients’ feelings of risk, so that they feel comfortable moving ahead with an engagement.
Find out what clients think by visiting them periodically and getting them to talk about their business and to listen to what they are saying. Managing client expectations is possible only by giving clients the chance to clearly and regularly express them.
A Collaborative Relationship
Lawyers and clients should be mutually committed to a collaborative relationship that is founded on communication and understanding. Such collaboration doesn’t just manage expectations – it builds the trust and loyalty that are essential to an enduring relationship.