Five ways to properly manage client expectations in a law firm

how to manage client expectationsYesterday was a day that I should really love at my law firm, but it is always stressful. I emailed out my monthly client bills. Most of you, if you haven’t already gone through this, you will eventually. Why is this such a bittersweet event? Because most of the time I send out the bills and get no response except for maybe a “you can go ahead and deduct that from my trust balance”. That’s perfect. I love those billing months.

But every so often…

We get one of those clients that has a problem with their bill. They don’t understand it. They can’t read it. It scares them, even though it is exactly what they should have expected. This happened to me last night as I was cranking out the emails in Quickbooks. But in this situation, it wasn’t necessarily the bill that was the problem, it was the client’s expectations about receiving the bill.

How could I have avoided this situation? There are probably many things I could have done in for this specific client. And I already put some of them into action last night as I emailed her back and realized some of the mistakes I had made.

In the wake of this mistake on my part, I went online to do some research on managing client expectations, and found this list of gems from Forbes.com.

How to manage client expectations in five easy steps

  1. Be honest and transparent with your client from day one. One thing I tell any client that comes in to see me is that my job is not to tell them how to resolve their divorce. My job is to keep them informed about the progress of their case and explain to them their legal options (among other things). I also tell the client that there are no guarantees about the outcome of their case – any lawyer that would offer them a guarantee is unethical and lying to them.
  2. Under-promise and over deliver. This is so important in legal matters, especially in litigation, because you just never know what is going to happen in a case. I try to do the best I can to set my client up for disappointment at the outset, and then over-deliver on my promises.  That way, even if we get a bad result, the client knows that I offered them the best possible legal services they could have expected.
  3. Anticipate the needs of the client – before they do. One thing that I have implemented into my follow-up with new clients is a weekly phone call, completely out of the blue. My assistant and I switch off in making this call. She will do it one week and me the next. We do this for at least a month after the client hires us, then on a monthly basis thereafter. By doing this, we stay ahead of any potential problems with the client and let them know that we are thinking about them.
  4. Remain in constant communication with the client. Part of this communication comes from the weekly phone calls I mentioned above, but I also provide my clients with an online portal so that they can review the documents, pleadings, and correspondence in their case anytime they want. I also let clients know that although I do not accept inbound phone calls, my assistant is always available to take their calls, and they can schedule a phone conference with me within 24-48 hours after they call – usually the same day.
  5. Send out regular reports about the status of their case. Our reports typically come in the form of the client’s monthly bill, which itemizes what was done on their case, but as I think more and more about this, a regular email to each active client letting them know what has happened on their file during the last month or so would be a great way to add value to a client. I’m going to try to implement this into my practice immediately.

Have a way that you manage client expectations that I didn’t reference above? I want to hear about it! Please post a comment below.