Good communication between a lawyer and their client is paramount. After all, a lawyer cannot do their job if a client hasn’t shared important details. Business lawyers work hard to resolve matters ranging from corporate tax compliance to lawsuits that make national news. There’s no room for error.
Effective lawyer and client communications should be a priority. Without it, you run the risk of:
- Making your client feel ignored or devalued
- Your client forgetting important information
- Relationships between you and your client falling apart
- Less room to negotiate with clients
- Losing out on future work with that client or business
But it’s not as simple as just telling your team to “communicate better.” Effective communication takes time, effort, and learning a unique skill set. Of course you should listen to your client. Of course you should communicate with them regularly. But what does that really mean?
It means more than just being a good listener. Improving client communication means building a framework that standardizes your communication process. Once that framework is in place, you can refer back to it time and time again. And if you review the tools you use each day with that in mind, you can make great communication easier than ever.
In this article, we’ll discuss the best practices for improving client relationships, and how you can start to build them.
Establish clear communication channels
Do you prefer to communicate by email? What about your client? Would they rather you just give them a call?
Establishing clear communication channels takes communication, and different conversations require different channels. An open conversation requires a meeting or call, but a quick update may just need an email or text.
Discuss preferred channels of communication up front, and establish when those channels are appropriate. If you send regular updates by email, make sure your client is happy to receive them, and make sure your team has the tools to streamline that process. Consider software that will let you send updates automatically. If you find your office is overwhelmed by incoming calls, consider contact center AI solutions to get queries and messages to where they need to be.
Practice active listening skills to comprehend client concerns
Being a good listener is easier said than done. Lawyers deal with so many clients that it can often feel like you’ve heard everything. And therein lies the problem. Switching off, making assumptions, or jumping to conclusions is tempting, but every person, client, business, and case is unique. If you don’t make clients the center of your world, you miss a crucial piece of information.
Active listening is a skill set that takes more than just words into consideration. It involves:
- Maintaining good eye contact (even on a video call!)
- Looking for non-verbal cues, like physical signs of anxiety, sadness, or anger, and using those cues to offer appropriate support
- Asking open-ended questions to gain more information and express genuine interest
- Paraphrasing the talker’s words and reflecting them back to demonstrate close attention
Active listening helps you better understand the client’s thoughts and emotions. Being an active listener helps your client feel more comfortable, encouraging them to trust you, open up more, and ultimately help you serve them better.
Simplify complex legal terms for client comprehension
Legal jargon can seem impenetrable, even for seasoned professionals, so think of how your clients feel when you’re spouting complex legal terms at them. Jargon might make communication more efficient between lawyers, but after smiling and nodding through a meeting, clients can leave feeling belittled, confused, and less confident in your genuine desire to help them.
Use simple language to describe legal concepts. Explain legal processes thoroughly in a way your client will understand, and don’t be afraid to ask if they understand something.
Establish a communication schedule for updates
Every client thinks their case or transaction is the most important in the world. To them, it is.
For you, though, their matter is just one of many important responsibilities. Lawyers are busy, and it’s impossible to stay in constant contact with every single client. Creating realistic expectations from the beginning is the key to avoiding resentment down the line.
However, a client might be anxious or impatient. It’s important to have frank discussions up front about what is and is not practical.
- Define what counts as an essential update and guarantee contact when said update occurs.
- Create a realistic timeframe for email, call, or message replies. For example, guarantee a reply within one or two business days.
- Schedule regular conversations with clients to set aside time for updates, concerns, or simply touching base.
- Don’t set yourself up for failure by promising clients the world and then disappointing them.
Your clients want to feel kept in the loop, but you don’t want to be inundated. Setting realistic expectations and communication schedules can help avoid clients chasing you for updates.
Maintain detailed records of client communications
Your case is missing a vital piece of information. The client swears they told you over the phone a few weeks ago. You’re sure they didn’t, but now you’re doubting yourself.
Keeping detailed communication records is another thing that sounds like common sense, but it can be overlooked when so much information is flying back and forth.
Record phone and video calls when appropriate, keep email and messaging records, and record or take detailed notes during in-person conversations. There are CRM tools, cloud storage solutions, and virtual assistant tools to help keep everything recorded and stored securely.
If something is overlooked, you can prove to your client that it wasn’t your negligence that caused it and maintain a good level of trust.
Seek feedback from clients
Being receptive to feedback is one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your skills. After all, most people are happy to give feedback when asked.
Positive feedback can help boost confidence and allow you to stick to the things you’re doing right. Negative feedback is even more valuable, if a little intimidating. Constructive criticism helps us to learn, grow, and improve on our weaknesses.
Asking for feedback is a double win: it shows your clients that you care, and you’ll gain valuable insight into your own work. As a bonus, if you ask for feedback publicly, potential clients looking for a good lawyer will be able to see it.
Improving your firm’s client communications
Lawyers only have so much time and energy. Being a law professional often means long hours and stressful workloads.
Creating clear, realistic, and empathetic lines of communication between yourself and your clients is paramount to easing both your and your clients’ stresses. Improving lawyer and client communication makes your job easier, facilitating honest and open discussion, building trust, and ultimately leading to wins.