A recent blog post from The Stubborn Writer entitled Why Your Lawyer Won’t Take or Return Your Phone Calls – The Top 10 Reasons caused a lot of heated discussion yesterday among some of my counterparts at other bar associations. While I will freely concede that the post is snarky to the max and doesn’t do anything improve the image of the legal profession in the eyes of the legal-services-buying public, I’m not sure that’s really who the author was aiming at, anyway. Having practiced law for quite a while, several of the top 10 really hit a nerve, and I can’t help but think that many practicing lawyers would agree with much of the author’s assessment of why lawyers duck and dodge their clients’ phone calls. The issue, then, is what you can do with this information to improve your own client relations and the image of the profession, too.
I’ll skip over three of the reasons the author listed: “Your lawyer has issues, your lawyer screwed up, and your lawyer is an ass.” With the help of the Lawyer Assistance Program, we all know, or should know, by now that practicing law is difficult, stressful work, and it does eventually get the best of many fine practitioners, despite their best efforts to keep on keeping on. Lawyers do, from time to time, fail to respond to their clients because they are incapacitated, know they have missed a critical deadline, or are just not nice people. They know who they are (you do, too) and they’re probably not reading this post, anyway. I do think, though, that conscientious lawyers who want to improve their working relationships with their clients can learn a lot from the other seven reasons The Stubborn Writer listed:
- Your lawyer is busy on something more important.
- There is nothing new to tell you.
- You are not the client.
- You talk too much
- You are an idiot.
- You won’t listen.
- You are an ass.
You, as the lawyer, have partial to complete control over all of these issues. You think not? Stay with me.
The first three deal with client education, something you have total control over. When you take on a new client, provide him or her with all the information needed to understand the steps the matter will go through and how long each will take. Include information about your office procedures, when you are and are not available to take or return phone calls, and who else in your office is available to help when you are not. Give out something in writing that the client can refer back to, and you’ll eliminate the need for many calls before they even arise.
The last four “reasons” are related to client intake, another subject over which you have complete control. Most lawyers know as soon as they take on a new client whether or not he or she is going to be trouble in the long run. The problem is that we don’t listen to our better instincts and turn those clients down, or fire them when we should.
So the next time you’re inclined to duck a client call, or just can’t bring yourself to return the call, take a long, hard look in the mirror. Ask yourself what you could have done to avoid finding yourself in this situation, and learn from your mistakes. And don’t forget to return that phone call, now!