A post on Attorney at Work by Wendy Werner suggesting ways to share bad news within the office about a member of the firm or about the firm itself, got me thinking about how important it is to share bad news with a client at the earliest opportunity.
It should be self-evident that clients – just like everyone else – hate surprises. Whether it is a setback in the matter being handled, or a financial/billing issue or something overlooked that the client will not be happy about, suck it up and spill the beans as soon as you can.
There are stories about clients forgiving lawyers for a mistake. Rarely is that the case when the firm failed to disclose the error early on, and the client finds out about it later in the game. No one likes to share bad news (well, actually there are some who do, but that’s another story). But, the problem cannot be hidden under a bushel basket hoping that it’ll go away. It won’t!
Some advice includes:
- Visit the client immediately and tell it straight;
- Advise the client what you plan to do next to correct the problem, or otherwise make up for it; and
- Let client know that you will keep them informed about the issue going forward.
Werner calls our attention to Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, a book that covers Gallop research findings that involved asking “10,000 followers what influential leaders provided in their lives. They identified four basic needs of followers” (read clients). They include trust, compassion, stability and hope.
You or your firm could keep or lose clients for some of the same reasons, especially when failing to inform them about a problem ASAP.