Managing Client Expectations as a Solo Attorney

by Melanie Fischer on February 11, 2016

Business meeting

As a solo attorney, you have probably seen all kinds of clients walk through your door. Some are organized and on time and some are consistently late for appointments. Some are over-confident about their case and some are anxious and worried. Regardless of quirks in your clients’ personal style, hopefully most of them are relatively easy to work with.

People call an attorney when they think they need legal assistance. Some have a clear understanding of the legal system and exactly how an attorney can provide help. Others might not realize the complexity of their situation and may have unrealistic expectations about how you, as an attorney, can help them.

Many solo attorneys who have been in business for a significant period of time have clients that are consistently happy with the legal services provided to them. Unfortunately, it’s inevitable that most solo attorneys have also had clients who are invariably dissatisfied with the outcome of their case. Could that dissatisfaction have been prevented? Maybe. As a solo attorney, your goal should be to minimize the possibility that your clients will be dissatisfied with your services. This is best accomplished through effective communication.

When operating a solo law firm, it’s incredibly important to manage client expectations at the outset. Many people believe they have a strong legal case and that they can sue anyone for anything (without clear legal justification). They may think that an attorney can be hired to fix just about any type of predicament. Unfortunately, many attorneys make empty promises to their clients. When promises are made that cannot be fulfilled, clients can get upset.

One of the best ways to prevent unrealistic expectations is to be open and honest with each and every client at all times. Be realistic with them. Don’t promise things that you’re not sure you can deliver, and help clients see things from a perspective besides their own. If they seem unhappy about your approach when you start out, they might never be satisfied with you.

To help manage client expectations, consider the following:

Explain the legal process to your clients. This will vary depending on the area of law in which you practice. For example, helping a client with a will might be a relatively straightforward process. But assisting a client in wading through a complicated divorce might take months or even years. Make sure you give your clients a realistic timeframe – and also make them aware that things might take longer than expected if complications arise along the way.

Maintain open communication with your clients. It’s important to keep in touch with each and every client on a regular basis – even if there is nothing new to report. Clients appreciate being e-mailed or called. It makes them feel as though they have not been forgotten. Regular communication can also be important in helping clients to maintain realistic expectations.

Develop a trusting relationship with your clients. If your clients trust you, they will listen to you. It’s important to have good rapport with your clients no matter who they are or what their legal matter entails. If you come across as a knowledgeable attorney who has in the past been successful in handling similar legal work, your clients should trust your legal advice and have a good idea of what to expect from you as an attorney.

When new clients come to you for legal assistance or advice, it’s important to make sure they understand that you are a professional and have expertise in the area of law needed for their case. People often think they understand the law and are surprised when their attorney tells them that their interpretation of the law is not correct. If you take time to explain the legal process to your clients, and if you make sure their expectations are realistic, you should be able to develop many successful professional relationships that will hopefully result in referrals and/or future billable work.


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