Tips for Improving Client Relationships

Hot off the presses!  Get your copy of Tips for Improving Client Relationships, a free eBook available to download now.

Topics include:

  • Effective communication techniques
  • How procrastination affects client relationships
  • How to say “no”
  • Integrating client communication into your everyday workflows
  • Thanking clients as part of your
    closing ritual
  • The Art of CYA
  • Why letters may be superior to emails
  • When to call or meet in person vs. texting or emailing

Each section contains straightforward tips designed to help you build and improve upon client relationships quickly and easily.  Download your free copy today.

While visiting the online store, don’t forget to peruse the on demand CLE section with these offerings:

All programs are current and accredited by the Oregon State Bar.  Visit the online store for details.  Every on demand CLE includes:

  • MP4 download (combined audio and video file)
  • M4a download (audio only)
  • Written program materials, including presentation slides and resources
  • Answers to polling questions asked during the live CLE
  • MCLE Form 6 for self-reporting of MCLE credits

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis (2018)

How to Treat Bad Clients

When you saw this post title, how did you react? Was your first thought: “Kick ’em to the curb” or “I wonder where this is going?” If it was the former, don’t feel bad – it’s my knee-jerk reaction too.

When we hear the words “bad client,” we instinctively cringe. It conjures up past experiences we would rather not relive. Frankly, nothing could be more unpleasant. So what should we do?

Remedies for bad clients

Want to weed out or eliminate bad clients? Nothing beats:

  1. Screening at intake;
  2. Controlling expectations; and
  3. Knowing when to say no.

Trouble is, most of us know these lessons.  So …

What if a bad client squeezes by?

If there is an irremediable breakdown in the lawyer-client relationship and withdrawal is viable, do it. At this stage, it isn’t going to get better. Yet, some lawyers refuse to do so.

Why would anyone hold on to a client who belittled and berated them? Denied that telephone conversations or email exchanges occurred? Refused to produce materials requested in discovery? Insisted the lawyer use unethical or illegal tactics? (All actual events that have happened to lawyers I know.)

Money is generally the explanation. The lawyer can’t afford to forego the fee (or jeopardize her job). There are other reasons too, like fear and intimidation.

I hope you never experience any of this. If you do, I hope you are strong enough to get out. If you want to talk it over with someone, consider calling one of the confidential attorney counselors at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP).

Is there another approach?

I was motivated to revisit this topic by blogger Celia Elwell. In a recent post, she took on lawyers and legal staff who retaliate against ill-tempered clients by putting the client’s work at the bottom of the stack. Since I’ve witnessed this too, I wanted to share this point made by Ms. Elwell:

Most people, as a rule, do not call an attorney’s office because they are having a good day. Before they became our clients, they realized they had a problem, tried to deal with it, were unsuccessful, stressed, and lost sleep. In short, we are not seeing them at their best.

Take good notes when your clients vent, rant, or repeat themselves. Because they are upset, they may be mistaken or confused. Let the client know that you are listening to them. Interrupt only when you need them to repeat something to make sure you get it right. Document the clients’ concerns, and tell your attorney they called and why.

While her remarks are directed toward staff, they are good reminders for us all.

If you didn’t spot it, notice I suggested above that withdrawal made sense if (a) it was viable and (b) there was an irremediable breakdown in the lawyer-client relationship.

What if you aren’t there yet? This is when Ms. Elwell’s advice comes in handy.

Do not under any circumstances intentionally retaliate by putting the client’s work at the bottom of the stack. At the least, it is unprofessional. It will also likely result in a bar complaint and/or legal malpractice claim. Instead, take the high ground:

  • Try to diagnose what went wrong. Is the client mad at you or someone else? Is the client mistaken or confused? Is this about money? How stressed is the client? Consider scheduling an in-person meeting to air out client concerns.
  • Go out of your way to be courteous and considerate. Instruct staff to do the same.
  • Do high quality work in a timely manner.

It’s easy to be resentful and decide that we’re going to give what we get. But if you go out of your way to appease the upset client, you remove all rational grounds for disputes, complaints, and claims. It’s better to remain professional, even if the “bad” client never appreciates it.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

Postscript

For more tips on improving client relationships, check out this CLE:
7 Steps to Building Better Client Relationships.

 

Bidding Adieu to TECHSHOW

Last month I highlighted the ever-popular “60 in 60” tips, websites, gadgets, and resources from the 2018 ABA TECHSHOW as well as some great advice from security experts. Before we say goodbye to 2018 entirely and turn our thoughts to 2019, I wanted to share some of the other stories I curated from this conference:

If any of these topics interest you, click on the links above to learn more.  See you next week at Best Practices for Docketing, Conflicts, Disengagement, and File Retention.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

 

The Best of 60 in 60 from the 2018 ABA TECHSHOW

It’s hard to categorize the annual “60 in 60” tips session at ABA TECHSHOW because it could be anything – useful websites, new apps, career resources, gadgets, editing and proofreading tools for lawyers, or anything else the panelists find that we can’t live without.  Below is a sample of what was covered this year.  For the complete list, view my story on Wakelet.

The short list from 60 in 60

  • TimeFlip – a battery-powered cardboard polygon that uses an app on your smartphone to track time spent on meetings, phone calls, email, and other tasks.
  • Dryver – the mobile app where you can hire a driver starting at $15.95/hour to drive you around in your own car.
  • Ceev.io – the free Chrome extension that uses your LinkedIn profile to create a resume. Here’s mine. Choose from four themes, nine accent colors, and five different fonts at no charge. Unlock more options for $10.  My tip: also consider Strikingly, which allows you to create a website using your LinkedIn profile.
  • The Noris digital pencil from Staedtler – an electromagnetic input pencil that feels like your old #2, looks like your old #2, and works with Samsung smartphones.
  • Sideways Dictionary – a site that demystifies tech babble like “sandboxing” or “honeypot,” which have nothing to do with kids playing or bears eating honey.
  • PerfectIt – an intelligent editor and proofreader with a special style sheet specifically designed for lawyers. $99 a pop, integrates with Microsoft Word. Check out the free trial.
  • Flow-e – an email and task management platform combined to transform your inbox into a highly visual task board (Kanban style) or Sanebox, which automatically filters unimportant email out of your inbox (works with Gmail, Office 365, Apple iCloud, etc.).

There’s so much more … like how to create your own digital medical exhibits

Hopefully I’ve tempted you. Check out the complete list from 60 in 60!  Where else will you learn how to validate websites, determine if your passwords have been compromised, use private browsing, convert your blog into a podcast, check Google trends, or mute calls using your Apple watch?

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

Postscript

For more summaries of 2018 ABA TECHSHOW tips, advice, and resources for lawyers, see my main Wakelet page.

How to Say No to Clients

 

Did you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions?  You are in good company!

As we discussed in 7 Steps to Building Better Client Relationships, lawyers often feel pressured to practice “door law.”  The source of the pressure may be economic:  I don’t really have a choice because I need the money.  Or it can be emotional: Family, friends, or former clients are depending on me.

Either way, saying no can be incredibly difficult, so here is some sage advice that first appeared in In Sight.  These tips apply no matter who is doing the asking: clients, friends, family, or neighbors.

Five steps to saying “no”

  • Be respectful.  Listen to the asker and don’t interrupt. Respect the request, then respect your right to decline the request.
  • Keep it simple.  You have the right to say “no.”  Elaborate justifications aren’t necessary [and may lead to backsliding, since many of us say “yes” to avoid feeling guilty].
  • Assign responsibility elsewhere:  “That sounds very nice; unfortunately, my
    calendar is booked solid.” Now it’s your calendar’s fault. Stand firm. Avoid engaging in discussion or negotiation.
  • Refer to others who might fill the opening well.
  • Say yes when there is a good reason to do so, it will benefit you, or the cause is one you believe in.  [Life is too short to take on a case or client you find repugnant.]

I encourage you to read the full article here.

Still need persuading? Time for tough love

You are not the only lawyer who can help your clients.
If money is an issue, there are other lawyers who participate in the OSB modest means program, offer sliding fee services, or take pro bono referrals.  If you continually give your time away to nonpaying clients, your practice will decline and you may need to close your doors.  If you close your practice, you aren’t available to help anyone.

If the case can’t be won, are you doing a service or a disservice by taking it?
Once a lawyer commits to a case, many clients assume the case CAN BE WON, no matter how you qualify your representation.  Not all clients have a legal remedy, for a variety of reasons. This can be a bitter pill to swallow, but the truth is better than false hope.  You can always suggest [and should suggest] a second opinion.

A good case and a paying client don’t necessarily mean the case is right for you.
Don’t let someone push you out of your comfort zone. Law is complex. Staying on top of your desired practice areas is hard enough. Straying into unfamiliar areas is stressful, time consuming, expensive (because of the learning curve), and more likely to result in a claim or bar complaint.

You are a lawyer, not a doctor.
Keeping clients who won’t follow your advice, don’t cooperate, and look to place blame anywhere but with themselves, is a pure misery.  This is not a situation you can cure, except by firing the client.

All Rights Reserved 2018 – Beverly Michaelis