Small Law Firms

The Practice: Do You or Your Client Understand the Scope of Representation? (Part II)

So the matter/case (whatever you call it) is over. You’ve resolved the contract dispute, formed the corporate entity, ended the marriage, had the criminal case dismissed, resolved whatever the client’s issue was for which you were retained.

You’ve taken my advice and narrowly defined the scope of representation in your written, signed, retainer agreement. Now what?

Your guess is that you send a nice letter advising the client that you’re done here, thanking them for retaining you, and possibly reminding them that there’s a balance due.

Not a bad idea.

Not the best idea, but not a bad idea.

I suggest that the end of your representation is where you give the free consultation, instead of at the beginning.

Time for a face to face meeting with the client, to continue the relationship. Time to ask: “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I’m terrible at this. I rarely do it. I generally say goodbye to the client in court, or with a phone call and tell them to “take care.” I may say, “Call me if you need anything,” but I don’t often take the extra step to continue the client relationship. Many times the relationship is already established through the representation, so I don’t feel the need for the face to face “exit interview,” but I’m missing out on an opportunity, and I know that….

Much of what I’m hinting at, I do at the initial consultation. While other lawyers are immediately assessing the case, I’m learning about the client. I always begin the relationship (representation) asking about the client, their family, their background, and staying away from the facts and circumstances of their legal issue — we’ll get to that. It’s important that the client realizes they are talking to a person that actually gives a crap about them as a person, and not just a case.

If you’re not doing that at the beginning, do it at the end. I should do it at the end too, I just don’t. You can hand them a “termination letter” at that meeting, after you discuss with them that you would like them to call you any time they have a legal issue. You may not handle that specific issue, but you’d be happy to put them in the right hands. You can also ask the client about their plans for the future, and whether you can help them meet someone in town that you may know. Clients don’t expect this — they don’t expect you to be a resource to them other than a hired gun to resolve a legal issue. They see us as a fee-for-service industry. Be different, convince them otherwise.

Lawyers that fear termination letters are bad for business, especially when there are several different legal matters going on for the client at one time. You can resolve the issue of when representation ends on a specific matter with face to face meetings when a specific issue resolves. Our number one ethical obligation that gets us in trouble is communication. So communicate.

Communication with the client is more than a .3 letter. Representation begins and ends, but never forget the opportunity you have to continue a relationship with a client after you’re done representing them. They’re your best referral sources, and always will be.

Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at

(hidden for your protection)

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