It should be obvious that client dissatisfaction is mostly based on not meeting their expectations. I have argued on more than one occasion (here and here) that exceeding client expectations is one of the best legal marketing strategies a law firm can adopt. That is not to say that all client expectations are realistic. And if they are unreasonable, it is likely the lawyer’s fault in not setting sensible ones with the client that can be met.

Thanks to Jim Calloway’s post on client expectations for referring me to article on "managing" client expectations by Patricia Yevics, director of Law Office Management Assistance for the Maryland Bar Association that appeared in the June issue of the ABA’s GP/Solo magazine.

Not only does Patricia give excellent advice on working with clients on setting expectations, but some guidelines on managing technology to avoid us becoming tools of our tools.

As to setting the right expectations, Patricia suggests “creating new rules" by setting limits (not in any negative sense) and sharing them at the start of engagement:

  • Communications:
    • Instant response to calls or e-mails is not always required or sound practice (as she reminds us, instant coffee is not always best),
    • Let clients know that you or someone from your office will return calls within X period of time (I like four hours),
    • Ask client if returning calls after normal business hours, on weekends or by cell phone are okay (shows respect for the value of their time, and your willingness to communicate outside the workday),
    • Suggest client leave as detailed a message as possible on voicemail or with your secretary when they can’t reach you (will save time and you’ll be more prepared when you do speak).

  • E-Mails:
    • Explain whether you will bill for e-mails (some clients expect that a quick e-mail response is a freebie),
    • Advise client regarding sending sensitive or confidential info by e-mail,
    • Like phone calls, set guidelines for returning e-mails.

  • Emergencies:
    • Advise clients that they should telephone rather than fax or e-mail, if there is an emergency,
    • Depending on your type of practice, consider giving out your cell or home phone number, but request clients restrict their use to emergencies.

Setting ground rules with clients regarding your representation will help manage client expectations, and avoid unrealistic expectations that are not met. The latter only leads to unhappiness that, in turn, can have adverse impacts on client relationship. When that happens, even the best legal marketing strategies will fail to bear fruit.