11 Tips to Maintaining Good Lawyer-Client Relationship

[avatar size=”60″ align=”left”]  By Michael Dugeri

The Lawyer-Client Relationship is one of the most important aspects of Legal Practice. Unfortunately, this is often over-looked by a significant number of Lawyers. A Client wants to feel confident when dealing with his or her Lawyer and the Client’s experience with the Lawyer should be as pleasant as possible.

Maintaining good Lawyer-Client relationships has many benefits; it boosts confidence in the Client and keeps him loyal to the Lawyer, while also helping in preventing a malpractice claim from being asserted against the Lawyer.
A Client who is satisfied with you and your work will be more understanding and willing to cooperate if you commit an error.

Here are a few ideas which will promote good Lawyer/Client relations and a higher standard of service.

1. PUT THE TERMS OF THE LAWYER-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP IN WRITING

State your specific responsibilities as well as the activities which you will not be performing for the Client. Lawyer-Client disputes often involve a misunderstanding as to the Lawyer’s responsibilities.

2. SET YOUR FEE (IN WRITING) AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE

Have the Client sign a fee agreement or engagement letter and keep a copy in the file. Answer any questions the Client may have. Make sure he/she understands the arrangement completely.

3. DO NOT CREATE UNJUSTIFIED OR UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS FOR YOUR CLIENT

Do not give the Client false hopes by blowing your own horn. Don’t make the case sound easier than it is. Many Lawyers give unrealistic expectations to their Clients by making such statements as “Don’t worry, I handle these cases all the time.” or “This type of case comes up all the time. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

4. KEEP THE CLIENT INFORMED

Send the Client copies (even if soft copies) of correspondence and/or pleadings. He/she may not understand them, but will be happy you sent them anyway. Clients usually like to be updated as to the status of their case. If the case is to remain dormant for quite some time, you may want to notify the Client and explain the reason for the delay.

5. RETURN PHONE CALLS AND ANSWER E-MAILS PROMPTLY

There is nothing more aggravating than waiting for a Lawyer, or anyone else for that matter, to return a phone call or answer an e-mail. If you are unable to return the call right away, have a staff contact the Client and explain the reason for your not being able to return the call yourself and ask if there is anything they can do to assist the Client or take a message so that you can take whatever action is necessary.

6. DECISIONS MUST BE MADE BY THE CLIENT

This is the Client’s case and all decisions must be made by him/her. Do not assume that you have authority to make a decision without first consulting the Client. You job is to advise, and not necessarily to decide. Make sure you give the Client all of the necessary information so that the Client can make an informed decision. Put all decisions made in writing, especially if the Client insists on making a decision contrary to what you have suggested. If the Client carries total responsibility for the decisions made, he/she cannot later blame you for having made the wrong decision if your files are properly documented.

7. EMPLOY PROPER OFFICE PERSONNEL

Your employees have a great deal of contact with your Clients. Office personnel should be courteous and understanding to the Client’s situation. Make sure your staff is capable of producing quality as well as quantity work. Employing persons with background (or at least interest) in law can be very helpful. And keep your staff as happy as possible, so that they can be motivated to do good work.

8. CONFIDENTIALITY

Office personnel are held to the same strict code of Client confidentiality as Lawyers. Advise your staff of their responsibility to maintain confidentiality. Many firms have staff sign a statement which explains the need for confidentiality so that all staff are aware of its importance. Don’t take business phone calls when a Client is in your office. The Client will feel that you will probably discuss his/her case in front of other Clients as well. Don’t leave Client files out on your desk for other Clients to see. This goes for staff members as well. Treat each case with the greatest of confidentiality.

9. PERSONAL INVOLVEMENT

Depending on the nature of the cases that a Lawyer handles, it is easy to become personally involved with the Client, which should not be the case. Your firm should make it a general practice never to become personally involved with a Client. If you are a party in a business venture, suggest that the Business use an uninvolved Lawyer to represent its legal interests. If you attempt to be a Partner in a business as well as serve as Legal Counsel, when things go wrong the other Partners will heap on you the responsibility of tidying up the situation, not minding that you are also a victim of the bad situation. Do not ask Clients to invest in your personal ventures or those of other Clients. In other words, avoid situations that can lead to conflict of interest.

10. STAY IN YOUR OWN BACK YARD

While specialize is yet to be adopted in the practice of law around these parts, it helps if you develop expertise in certain fields of law. This means you will have to be honest enough to refuse a case that is outside your area of expertise. Do not accept a case for a friend if his/her case involves an area of law in which you do not normally practice. You should refer the matter to another Lawyer who regularly practices in that area of law. If you feel you must handle a case outside your expertise, be willing to either hire co-counsel (a Lawyer who is more knowledgeable in the area) or spend the additional time required to do the necessary research. Inexperience is no defence to a charge that you acted below the accepted standard of care. No matter what your experience, you will be held to the standards of Lawyers who practice regularly in a given field.

11. CHOOSE YOUR CLIENTS CAREFULLY

Take a good look at your potential Client and his/her case before accepting it.
Do not accept the Client who:

  • Expect unrealistic results.
  • Is out for revenge, is trying to defend a principle or is in too much of a hurry.
  • Has a case outside your area of expertise.
  • Has a case that is too large for your practice.

Michael Dugeri

Corporate Commercial Lawyer at Austen-Peters & Co.

Qualified Lawyer in Nigeria with broad experience in handling corporate and commercial transactions for both domestic and foreign clients within the financial services, oil and gas, aviation, employment and telecommunications sectors. Dugeri also participates in due diligence audits of the litigation portfolios of companies and banks targeted for acquisition and investments.
 
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