Even though you know the typical progression of a typical matter, your clients don’t. So it’s up to you to explain clearly what you’ll actually be doing – and not doing – for the fees you and the client agree to, whatever the fee structure might be.
For instance, if the flow of a matter is commonly phased or dependent on contingent circumstances, it’s your job to articulate the thresholds across which you and the client will revisit both the timeline and fees of your representation (e.g., unforeseen complex assets in an estate administration beyond what was originally known, or extra court visits beyond the usual number required for that type of case).
Coaching Prompt: Think back the last time you found yourself doing more or different work on a matter that wound up costing you money because the client thought you would be or should be doing that work under the original fee agreement. What could you have laid out up front that would have prevented the dilemma?
In 14 years of lawyer coaching, I’ve yet to encounter an attorney who has not faced problems arising from the all-too-common (though often benign) double-standard wherein clients expect their lawyer to fulfill every responsibility in the course of the representation, but who also fail to appreciate or fulfill their own responsibility to help the lawyer do his or her job most effectively.
Some of these client-responsibilities include: providing all pertinent information at the start of a matter and in a timely manner as the engagement or project progresses; responding promptly and completely to requests and communication you send the client; preparing for – and being on time to – conference calls and meetings; and, of course, paying their bills promptly.
Coaching Prompt: What is the most common way your clients inhibit your efficiency and effectiveness? And how can you address those situations proactively during your intake process with new clients (or as soon as an early indicator of pending trouble arises)?
Two tenets of effective lawyer time management include the reduction of the interruptions you tolerate, and the reduction of time you spend on administrative activities. Your goal should be to spend maximum time on your highest-value skills and tasks – tasks that only you can handle.
So what’s the misunderstanding here? It’s not being clear who and when your clients should call with what types of questions and situations. Should they call you? Your paralegal? Your office manager/assistant? An associate on the case?
Again, in 14 years, I have not met a single attorney who doesn’t wrestle with clients calling them with questions or to get information that could not be provided by others in his or her office but for the fact that it was never made explicitly clear to the client at the beginning of the engagement who and when they should be contacting.
To make this work, of course, you must be organized with your team about what each person is authorized to handle by way of client questions (substantive vs. administrative), and that it must be communicated to the client clearly in the intake/onboarding process who they should call for what info/questions under what circumstances.
Coaching Prompt: list the most recent 3 instances where a client called you to respond to something one of your team could have handled and set a time to meet with your team to come up with language for your client intake process