Communication Skills Part II: Communicating During the Case
For the second installment in our communication series, we will focus on the importance of communicating clearly with your client while working through a case.
Once you have communicated and formed a bond of confidence and an impression in the client that you are competent to do the work, you need to follow through. Get started. Do the hard work. Stay late if other things get in your way. It goes without saying that communication is more than just the spoken or written word. It is the way you carry yourself, respond, and continue to encourage confidence in your performance. Early communication and updates following your initial interview seal the bond of confidence that you are trying to encourage. It says, “You can count on me.”
Communication During the Case
A lawyer should always report each event in the case to clients to keep them informed of each process and allow the client the opportunity to ask questions. This serves not only to keep the client calm, but protects the lawyer from a claim of neglect. Obviously, in our adversarial system, not every case will go perfectly. There can be setbacks in terms of rulings, failures of evidence, and simply unexpected bad things happening. Each time, however, your communication can serve to either reassure the client that you have the matter under control or be a harbinger of likely adverse outcomes.
It is much better for the client to be warned well in advance of that likelihood long before it happens. And be aware, some clients recoil at hearing bad news and immediately want to blame the lawyer. When that inevitably happens, never respond with evidence of exasperation, frustration or anger. Your communications are critical to the character you present. The bottom line is never write a letter you’d hate to see on a poster board.
Also, if the adverse event is based upon a misrepresentation by the client or someone acting on the client’s behalf upon which the lawyer relied in appraising the case, the reasons for such outcome should be communicated (albeit diplomatically, as necessary) so that the client can understand the connection between the misrepresentation and the ultimate outcome. There are many examples of this. If a client assures you that a particular document will be available to prove timeliness of a condition precedent – and then the document turns out not to be available or doesn’t support the client’s statement, the lawyer should reference that disparity in their communication to the client.
Here’s the undeniable truth, which I mention at the outset: Good communication habits make you a better lawyer. By this I mean that if you require yourself to have robust client communications, you’ll pay more attention to your cases, accomplish more, and do it faster. If you avoid communication, it unfailingly leads to neglect, mutual frustration, and a breakdown of your bond of confidence.
Requesting Second Opinions
Some lawyers are threatened by a client’s request in a case for a second opinion. Do NOT be threatened. I always welcome that opportunity. It is my theory that if a lawyer with equal or better specialized skills than me has a different perspective, I want to hear about it because we are “collaborating” to achieve the best outcome for a client and not simply preserve our dignity or pride. In my career I have never had a bad outcome as a result of the client’s request for a second opinion. My only advice is to have the client ensure that the reviewing attorney has the requisite experience and skill.
To learn more about how to communicate effectively with clients during the case, download our new e-book, “Attorney Guidebook: Strengthen Your Client Communication Skills,” which explores how to set strong standards for communication and how to follow through on what you’ve promised.