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Want to Keep Clients Happy? Set Clear Expectations Early On

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Want to avoid a disgruntled client, a contested bill, or an unjustified bar complaint? You'll need to do more than just a good job. You'll have to make sure clients have a clear expectation of what to expect from you and when to expect it.

One of the easiest ways to keep your clients happy -- and hopefully get some good word of mouth recommendations -- is to make sure both of you are on the same page about fees, deadlines, and possible outcomes. Here's how to establish those expectations clearly, early on.

1. Be Clear on What Outcomes Are Possible

Pretty much every client thinks he has a winning case. If that case goes sour, it's the lawyers fault -- at least in the client's mind. We're not kidding, either. A 2012 report by the American Bar Foundation found that over one half of employment discrimination plaintiffs thought their attorneys were incompetent. A quarter thought their lawyers were actually corrupt and working against them.

Are such clients irrational? Yes. But they're also manageable. Before bringing on a new client, clearly and frankly discuss the odds of success. Help your client redefine what a successful outcome is, if you have to. If a case is tenuous, that should be clear, as should the process of achieving the client's expectations.

2. Discuss Fees, Scope, and Deadlines at the Onset

In your earliest meetings with a client, you should make sure to cover the big three: fees, scope of representation, and deadlines. This can help prevent disputes and surprises down the line. The terms of your representation should be included in your engagement letter and explained to the client face-to-face.

3. Explain Your Game Plan

You can go the extra mile by outlining the process for a client as well. Explaining how a matter will advance and the different steps involved in resolving a client issue can help establish reasonable expectations about your services.

4. Communicate Regularly

Proactive communication is a great way to make a client value your services. If a client goes for weeks or longer without hearing from her attorney, she will often assume that nothing is being done -- even if you are working on her issue often and actively. These worries can be foreclosed and a positive relationship established by regular communication.

But you don't need to be on call at all hours. If you're not going to answer the phone at 3 in the morning or on Sunday afternoon, that's a fine line to draw. Just be clear with clients about your availability.

5. Over-Deliver

You've established reasonable expectations. Now surpass them. Exceeding your clients' expectations will keep them coming back to you for the foreseeable future.

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