Laying down the law: How to set the right expectations for your legal clients

Your potential client has a problem. It’s overwhelming them and they’ve come to you for help. But they aren’t really thinking about you or your firm; they just want you to fix their problem, either with a settlement or a courthouse victory. 

You’re there to listen and potentially take up their case for a reasonable fee. But wait!—before you sign on to do anything, take time to lay down a few ground rules. This will help ensure you’re a match for each other and can significantly reduce miscommunications and costly misunderstandings. It’ll thus boost your odds of reaching the goals you establish together. 

With that in mind, we suggest the following tips to manage expectations and establish positive client control before agreeing to take on any case! 

Tell your story.

Chances are your potential client did some cursory research about you or your firm prior to reaching out. But again, they’re preoccupied with their problem, not about your biography. So tell them! 

Once you’ve heard the basics of their issue, share some information about your professional background, the types of cases you specialize in, any relevant experience you have, and your track record of success in similar cases. 

If you think you’re a good fit, then go on—promote yourself a bit to seal the deal. But if you’re not interested, politely and succinctly let them know (without being judgemental). 

Set clear boundaries.

The average lawyer crams 49.6 hours into their workweek, per Clio. Big Law attorneys are jamming for up to 80 hours. These workloads aren’t healthy or sustainable for most mere mortals. But some clients get pushy and expect you to be at their beck and call. Many even ask for your personal phone number so they can access you 24/7 in case of a perceived emergency. 

Alas, most lawyers shouldn’t give out their mobile numbers. Let clients know ahead of time, and in no uncertain terms, what your availability looks like. Be clear about when they can reasonably expect a return call or email if they reach out to your office. 

Unless they are your sole client, they must be comfortable with the fact that you’re helping other people. They should also recognize that you have a life outside of work. If they can’t deal with that, you probably aren’t the right counsel for them. 

Reassure them. 

After you’ve laid down the law about communications and boundaries, it’s time to reassure your potential client that you’re there for them. 

They’re probably experiencing a wide range of strong emotions, including fear and anger. They could even be suffering physically, depending on the circumstances. One thing all of your potential clients have in common is that they’re willing to put their trust in you and hand over the reins. 

Show them you’re worthy of that trust. Let them see that their case matters to you, that you’re ready to tackle it with gusto, and that you’ll be responsive to their needs. Never drop the ball when it comes to communications, for that’s the fastest way to seed uncertainty and doubt. Keep the lines as open as possible and encourage them to reach out with questions. 

Don’t make predictions.

Before deciding to move forward, be forthcoming about your expectations for their outcomes. Don’t attempt to offer concrete predictions, but let them know your analysis of the situation and if you think you can help them build a solid case. Stay objective and realistic. 

Help them understand the risks, including potential legal costs and other consequences in the event of either a win or a loss. Give your professional evaluation, but don’t try to predict the future or overstate their chances. If you’re willing to take the case, then obviously you believe you have a decent shot of success. 

If you think they simply don’t have a case or that it’s too weak, summarize your opinion briefly and explain that you can’t take them on right now. No attorney should waste a client’s time or money on a case they believe is unwinnable

Help them streamline. 

Every minute you or your staff work on a case is billable to the client. Yet, for some reason, many clients forget that fact—until they get the bill! 

Educate your clients so they understand the most efficient ways to communicate with your office. Introduce your receptionist and paralegal. Explain the hourly billing differences between when a paralegal works on something versus when an attorney does it. 

Share details about any special software clients should use to communicate or upload files. Basically, give them a rundown on all the ways they can streamline effort and thus help manage billable time most effectively. 

Make sure you’re setting your clients—and yourself—up for success!

The decision to take on a client’s case or not should never be taken lightly. Attorneys can make things go infinitely smoother by taking a few moments to:

  • Share information that will help with decision-making on both sides
  • Articulate the boundaries of the attorney/client relationship
  • Assuage any doubts and affirm your commitment to their case, if accepting
  • Be objective, truthful, and transparent about risks and possible outcomes, without offering predictions
  • Teach clients how to engage with your firm in an efficient, cost-effective manner 

Keep in mind, Ruby offers full support for your firm with flexible, scalable client communication services to suit every practice and budget—while also integrating with Clio to make client management even simpler.

With Ruby and Clio together, attorneys can:

  • Delight Callers: Callers are greeted by a cheerful, knowledgeable receptionist trained to deliver exceptional experiences.
  • Grow Your Practice: Missed calls are missed opportunities. Ruby answers calls live—24/7/365!
  • Break Free From Your Desk: With Clio’s cloud-based management software and Ruby’s ability to transfer calls to wherever you are, there’s no need to be tied to an office.
  • Enjoy peace of mind knowing your calls are handled by a highly skilled and friendly receptionist while saving you time with all your client’s details in one place!