When client expectations differ from the result it’s not uncommon for a client to sue and/or allege attorney malpractice.
Beginning with the initial client intake explain the legal services provided and never leave the provided services open to interpretation. Follow these tips for better client communication:
- Just say ‘No’: Listen to your prospective client expectations. If client expectations are unrealistic at the beginning of the engagement, they are likely to be unrealistic at completion.
- Follow an effective client engagement/disengagement letter intake process: The client engagement letter needs to precisely state the services you will and will not provide, along with expected deadlines and costs. Review the engagement letter with the client so they understand before signing. When your legal services end, send out a disengagement letter closing the attorney/client relationship. (Your local bar is a good source for boiler plate engagement/disengagement letters.)
- Keep communication lines open: Even if a client is bad at staying in touch, it’s important to continue communication. Communicate in the manner that the client prefers. If you need answers to questions, and do not receive a response to an e-mail, do not assume that the client is ignoring you, (s)he may never have gotten your e-mail. E-mails get caught in spam filters all the time. If the client does not respond to the e-mail. Pick up the phone. Continuous communication helps prevent misunderstandings. Thoroughly document all client communications.
- Invoice Monthly. Where appropriate invoicing can serve as an important communications tool. Poor paying clients may spell trouble ahead. Discuss unpaid bills with the client to resolve any misunderstandings.
- Do not hide undesirable information: Mistakes happen, and things go wrong. It’s part of life. Do not hide a missed deadline or bad result from a client. It’s better to explain the problem once it’s noticed. (Also likely required by rules for professional conduct.) Deliver bad news in person. If not possible, then by phone. Have a plan to address this issue minimizing the damage.
- Get attorney malpractice insurance: Even the best attorneys run into problems and errors happen. Even with the best communication skills and the best possible result for your client will get you sued. Protect your law practice and your personal assets with attorney malpractice insurance.
- If you get sued: Notify your malpractice insurer as soon as practical. Many attorney malpractice insurance policies have deadlines and spell out exactly how to report claims. Follow the steps outlined in your policy. Consult your agent with any questions on claims reporting. If in doubt report.
Contact Me Today
Lee Norcross, MBA, CPCU
Managing Director, CEO
(616) 940-1101 Ext. 7080