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Do Your Clients Think You're Incompetent?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

If you don't believe your clients think you're incompetent, think again. A recent study of employment discrimination cases by the American Bar Foundation suggests they probably do.

Over half the plaintiffs interviewed reported that their lawyers were incompetent or worked against them. And at least one quarter of discrimination plaintiffs believed their attorneys were corrupt.

The good news is that a closer look at the study suggests that the real problem is our failure as attorneys to effectively communicate and manage their expectations.

For example, study participants felt their lawyers gave them bad advice, made mistakes and colluded with the defense. Many also felt like they were not equal players in the process.

If lawyers did a better job of making clients feel like equal players, the other complaints may mostly disappear. Bad advice is often only bad because a client doesn't understand it. Friendliness may seem like collusion, but in reality it's a negotiation strategy.

Yes, it can be frustrating to explain a strategic decision. But it's often the only way to allay client concerns. It also builds good will, a good reputation, and a better attorney-client relationship. Plus, it can help ward off a malpractice suit.

Study participants also complained about the high cost of litigation and unfair resolutions. These complaints appear to be the direct result of overly optimistic expectations.

Many reported being "shocked" by the fees. Others didn't realize how it would affect their home life and health care. And then there were those who were disappointed that they were not reinstated at their jobs.

Clients need better cost estimates. They need to be told how litigation will affect their lives and how long it is likely to last. And they need to know how likely it is they will get what they want. Otherwise, they're going to complain.

The reality is that most clients are only familiar with high-profile cases and large judgments. They know only what the media tells them and often have an idealized view of the justice system. If you don't want to be called incompetent, you need to set your clients straight.

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