Awareness of the client’s perspective will go a long way in improving a law practice and also improving the profession’s reputation. Though I don’t think lawyer jokes are going away anytime soon.
Heard any good lawyer jokes lately? Lawyers have long been the butt of many anecdotes depicting them as uncaring, unethical, greedy, or self-serving. While this is unjust for many of us who enter the profession to honor justice and ensure clients entrusted to them are represented fairly, it pains me to say that it is a deserved indictment for some.
Unfortunately, there are four major complaints I hear repeatedly from both clients’ and acquaintances’ previous encounters with attorneys.
- Unavailability. This is the most common complaint I hear time and time again. Some lawyers woo clients and lavish attention on them until they receive their retainer. Once that money is in the bank, suddenly the attorney “ghosts” their client: phone calls are suddenly not returned; and cases seem to go into limbo with little or no updates.
- Disinterest. The lawyer isn’t aware of what’s going on with the case. Sometimes, people have told me that beyond not having updates, their attorneys don’t remember the case and its specifics at all.
- Bait and switch. A client has worked with one attorney throughout the case’s course, and then the court date comes and suddenly there is a stranger representing the client in the courtroom.
- Timidity. Shyness is not a usual trait that is associated with attorneys, but I have heard time and again attorneys unwilling to speak up in the courtroom on behalf of their clients. Then what are we there for?
Attorneys depend on referrals from other clients or attorneys or from their reviews. Those referrals come from best practices:
- Availability. A client should never get a voicemail; they should be able to converse with a person. This is not a difficult system to implement. If an attorney is busy at the time of a client call, that call should be returned at the first opportunity. An attorney who takes a client’s hard-earned money as a retainer and then becomes too busy to serve that client should not have taken the case in the first place.
- Update. Clients are comforted when they know their attorneys are interested in, and informed on, their cases. Keeping clients updated on the progress of their case should be rote practice for attorneys.
- Relationships. Sometimes it is unavoidable that a colleague needs to take an attorney’s place in court. This should be rare, and that attorney should not be a stranger to the client. Clients should be introduced to the entire legal team working on the case so that he or she is assured the team is aware and up to date on the case. No one wants to go to court with a stranger representing them.
- Speak up. Some attorneys are reluctant to speak up on their client’s behalf. If it’s because they are afraid of rocking the boat and offending judges, they needn’t be. Judges expect counsel to be assertive on behalf of their clients. It is not rude to respectfully disagree, defend, or assert your client’s rights in the courtroom. This is what litigation is about. If an attorney is timid in the courtroom because he or she is nervous, then litigation is not the type of law that lawyer should be practicing.
The bottom line is respect for clients: for their money, their time, and their case concerns. Legal cases are something lawyers deal with every day, but for clients, it is not. A legal case is a big deal to people and in many cases, the outcome is life changing. Awareness of the client’s perspective will go a long way in improving a law practice and also improving the profession’s reputation. Though I don’t think lawyer jokes are going away anytime soon.