Clients deserve the best possible service from their attorneys. Outside counsel should strive to meet and exceed their client’s expectations. Nevertheless, according to a recent BTI Consulting report, only 33% of in-house counsel would recommend their outside counsel to others. This indicates that many attorneys are falling below their client’s expectations. The following tips can help attorneys develop and maintain successful attorney-client relationships.
Clients expect sound legal advice. But outside counsel must also understand what services are most valued by each client. For example, timely advice that does not exceed the budget may be more valuable than a treatise-length review of a legal issue. Attorneys should seek regular feedback from clients on what they value most and be willing to adapt to the client’s needs.
In order to understand what a client needs, attorneys must listen to their clients. Good listeners not only gather the facts, but learn which issues are critical to the business.
Clients turn to their attorneys when a problem arises. Attorneys need to understand and provide advice that helps solve the problem. This requires creative legal and business solutions.
Outside counsel must communicate efficiently and effectively with clients. Clients value crisp and concise answers that directly address the questions presented. Be responsive to client questions and understand the urgency of each request.
A thorough understanding of the client’s business will allow outside counsel to identify issues and anticipate their needs more effectively. Outside counsel should take the time to research the client’s business and technology, as well as the competitive landscape. This understanding will enable the attorney to see issues from a business perspective, not just a legal perspective.
In-house counsel are frequently juggling a wide-range of questions and issues. A good working relationship can allow outside counsel to help in-house counsel prioritize and meet deadlines. Outside counsel can offer to help with the management of legal matters and administrative matters, including the preparation and analysis of budgets.
In-house counsel are required to manage and stick to a budget. Outside counsel must respect the budgetary constraints of their clients and work to set realistic expectations. If the budget needs to change due to unexpected factors, outside counsel should discuss this with the client before the bill arrives. Clients do not like surprises, especially if budgets are exceeded without warning. Outside counsel should also make sure that their bills explain what work was actually performed and do not leave the client wondering about vague time entries. Outside counsel should anticipate their client’s billing questions and attempt to answer them in the bill itself.
A long-term attorney-client relationship should be based on more than the billable hour. Outside counsel should volunteer to provide training and legal updates to clients, free of charge. In addition, counsel should participate in community activities and organizations, especially if there are common interests between the client and attorney.
Clients appreciate attorneys who continue to evaluate and improve their services and systems. Outside counsel should offer innovative solutions to work management and billing practices. For example, clients appreciate knowing that outside counsel can have an attorney work at the client’s offices for a period of time to help handle long-term projects. Similarly, clients need to know alternative billing arrangements offered by counsel, including fixed fee and contingency fee arrangements.
The attorney-client relationship is founded on trust, which can only be developed when an attorney genuinely cares about a client and their business. An attorney who cares about their client remembers their goals and challenges, even when no active work is being performed by counsel. Knowledge of these details can make the difference between a good relationship and a great one.