It’s not part of a legal strategy or way to churn the file; it’s an attorney-initiated discussion about the client smack in the middle of the case.
What usually happens is that the attorney is retained, legal work begins, the client is updated as to the status of the case/matter, asked to weigh in occasionally on strategy, and reminded about the pending bill. We see this as part of the job, but how do the clients perceive the representation?
At some point in the representation, the best chance you have to hear what the client is really thinking is when they are not happy. You’ll get that anxious phone call, that question that is really a criticism, and it is during those times that you focus on trying to make the client happy.
What if you were proactive?
What if you scheduled a non-billable meeting with the client, outside your office, for the sole purpose of allowing the client to voice their overall concerns after you’ve been representing them for a while?
This isn’t a meeting to ask what the client thought of your motion for summary judgment, or your performance at the last deposition. This is a meeting to ask, “What do you think of all of this, of me, of what you thought would happen as opposed to what has happened?” The definition of a “good lawyer” is not tied solely to motion practice and oral argument — a big part of it is about the attorney/client relationship.
Unless a client is experienced in litigation or other legal disputes, they feel like they have a place. That place is to listen to their lawyer, receive updates from the lawyer, and pay their lawyer. Some clients are more involved than others, but usually not at the invitation of the lawyer. Many lawyers, including me, take the position of,
“Let me do my job, it’s what you paid me for.”
What we forget is that the most important feedback we can receive is from our clients. There are plenty of lawyers out there to say “good job,” and congratulate us when we are successful, but when you ask for feedback from a client, you’ll get it. While clients may not know the law like we do, they do understand relationships and how we are dealing with their issues.
To make this happen, you’ve got to put away the ego, stop the time clock, and be willing to hear the truth. I’ve done this at the end of a case, but not in the middle. Call it a break, call it a time out, call it an opportunity to possibly change the way you are handling the case. Maybe the client’s goals have changed, maybe something in their personal life has arisen and they haven’t had the guts to tell you — or they don’t want to call because “he charges me every time I call him.”
The client in front of you has the best ability to send you more clients. They’ll send you more clients because you do a good job for them, but also because you asked them if they think you are doing a good job, before the job is done.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.