How to Handle Difficult Clients

Every attorney knows that with good clients, comes the bad ones. Difficult clients should be expected with any business. Obtaining and maintaining clients is an essential part of having a successful firm. The clients are what drive the firm to become more successful. Clients seek out the assistance of attorneys because they themselves do not possess the knowledge and understanding of the law to be able to represent themselves in a civil or criminal matter. Clients instill their trust and confidence in their attorney, and are usually happy with the job that they have done for them. Not all clients feel this way….

When your firm has a disgruntled client, damage control must be done immediately in order contain the problem before it gets worse.

Manage expectations from the beginning

Clients may sometimes have the expectation that attorneys are a cure all for their problems. When the solution or lack thereof does not go in their favor, they may place the blame on the attorney. Difficult clients are sometimes unwilling to make decisions about their legal issues and want the lawyer to do it for them. The attorney’s role is to help the client understand their options and make informed decisions. Your firm should manage the expectations of each and every one of your clients. The attorney handling the matter should give the client realistic expectations of what can happen. Promising too much in the beginning and under delivering in the end can cause problems with the attorney/client relationship.

The client should be made aware of all of the possibilities that could arise from the situation. They should know that past success is not a guarantee of future success. Giving the client the worst case scenario can be the best option. This way, the client will not be blindsided in the end, and wonder why you did not warn them that this could happen. Difficult clients are likely to be unhappy about fees, so you need to establish mutual expectations concerning billing and payment procedures for your services. It’s especially important to bill clients with high service expectations frequently and regularly, and to provide as much detail as possible, so they can understand the cost of those expectations.

Document Everything

Document everything you possibly can, including phone calls, voice-mail messages and e-mail messages. Confirm the client’s instructions to you in writing, and confirm your instructions to the client in writing. Include the possible consequences of various courses of action the client may be considering. These messages and instructions should be saved as part of the permanent record on file. This should be done for all clients that you represent, but it’s especially important for difficult clients. When clients are unhappy, they will blame the attorney more often and with more damaging consequences than other clients.

They do not get along with your staff

When your clients do not get along with your staff, that can cause tension in the relationship. Personalities may differ and when one person is thought to be unreasonable or not being attentive enough to the other’s needs, this can cause an undue hardship in the working relationship. To ease the tension between the client and a particular staff member, have someone else in the firm work directly with the client so that they do not have to interact with the person that they do not get along with. When hiring staff for your firm, it is important to choose someone who not only has the experience and knowledge in the field, but someone who is personable that is able to get along and work with every type of client that you may have. Your staff is an important part of your organization and they build and represent the culture and reputation of your firm. The staff should be able to identify difficult clients.  Being able to identify difficult clients and behaving in a way that minimizes those risks should be priority for the staff. They should be in the habit of documenting contacts, instructions or information regarding that particular client. Make sure they deal with these types of clients with extra care, understanding, and patience.




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