All well-respected and successful attorneys have at least one skill in common: the ability to maintain strong client relationships. An attorney's ability to build and sustain solid client relationships is directly correlated to that attorney's overall success in his or her practice of law; whether that individual works in the private or public sector, an international law firm or a small nonprofit. However, for those attorneys who graduate law school without substantial networking experience or family ties to previously established business connections, the notion of developing client relations may bring about insecurities and discomfort. But young attorneys should not let this apprehension stand in the way of their success. There are a number of simple, inherent skills that all young lawyers possess that will help them start off on the right foot with any unfamiliar client.
• Start with the basics: who, what, where, when and why?
Do not be shy during the initial client meeting or interview. New attorneys can make a meaningful impression on their clients by confidentially introducing themselves with a brief summary of their knowledge and involvement of the matter at hand. Then, the attorney should get to know more about the client and what legal services they may need. To illustrate, if a client manufactures a particular product and they are looking to bring a lawsuit against a former employee for violating a confidentiality agreement regarding trade secrets, it would be prudent for the attorney to obtain information about the products manufactured by that client, as well as the details of when and how the client believes that the confidentiality agreement was violated. As long as the young attorney has come prepared to the client meeting having done his research and reviewed any available background materials, the attorney should not be afraid to ask questions to clarify the facts and the issues at hand. These questions will show the client that you are engaged, eager to learn, and making valuable use of your client's time and resources.
• Communication is key: do not underestimate the power of a telephone call.
Despite hectic schedules and the convenience of technology, telephone communication remains a key aspect of building and sustaining a positive rapport with clients. It is commonplace for many lawyers to rely heavily on email, or even text messages to communicate with their clients. However, this practice is not always the best way to communicate or to make a lasting impression on a client. Emails are impersonal. For young attorneys especially, it is important for the clients to be able to associate a face, or voice to a name, rather than just words on a screen, in order to get to build a lasting relationship. While most matters will not require daily or even weekly calls between attorneys and their clients, telephone discussions may be more effective than emails when communicating significant developments on a particular matter. A telephone conference may be preferred over email in those instances because the attorney will have the client's full attention, they will be able to communicate more freely with one another, and a telephone discussion will lead to a more productive, in-depth conversation than you might otherwise conduct in piecemeal format over email. Attorneys who conduct regularly scheduled telephone conferences, or who call clients to provide significant updates, will not only keep the client well-informed, and help young attorneys stay organized, but will also foster the attorney-client relationship.
• Set reasonable expectations: never make promises you cannot keep.
Inexperienced attorneys may be tempted to agree with everything that a client says in order to please that client or win their approval. Young attorneys should be mindful, however, that a client may not do or say the right thing at all times, and supporting a flawed position could damage your relationship with the client if taking that position has negative legal ramifications. It is more important to provide sound and realistic advice to your client, than to be a "yes man" who agrees for the sake of agreement. An attorney is responsible for detecting a client's blind-spot, bringing those potential weaknesses to light and formulating a path to remedy any legal issues. Attorneys who neglect these duties perform a disservice to their clients, which may also result in incurring avoidable costs and legal fees. Instead, the attorney should set realistic expectations for their clients. In that regard, counsel should typically avoid using the terms "guarantee," "always," and "never," to describe the outcome of any legal proceeding. The legislature, judges, adversaries, and people in general are unpredictable. Attorneys should advise their clients of any uncertainties related to their case, highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each applicable legal strategy, and then let the client make an informed decision based on the information available. This practice will help clients maintain perspective on all possible outcomes, including best and worst-case scenarios. Attorneys who learn to set reasonable expectations and communicate honestly with their clients from the beginning will fare better over time and are more likely to gain their client's trust. •
Lisa M. Koblin of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel focuses her practice on employment and labor law litigation, defending clients in suits involving allegations of discrimination, retaliation, harassment, hostile work environment, common-law tort claims and allegations of procedural or substantive due process violations.
The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.
Reprinted with permission from the May 4, 2017 edition of THE LEGAL INTELLIGENCER © 2017 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.almreprints.com. # 201-05-17-02