Too often, problems arise in the attorney-client relationship due to a failure of expectations. Even where excellent client service is provided, the failure to meet expectations - even unrealistic ones - can have a negative impact on the client's perception of the lawyer.
There's a great post over on the ALPMA blog which contains 5 tips to manage client expectations which are a good reminder for every lawyer.
Clients Come with Expectations
The author, David Vue, reminds us that, regardless of their experience with the law, clients come to you with pre-conceived notions, and the relationship can be jeopardized if you don't find out what they are and address them.
As the author notes,
if these expectations are not resolved to match the true representation of what you can, can’t, will and won’t do during a relationship or proceedings, then your efforts to create more engaged clients may be compromised.
In other words, don't let what you don't know become a ticking time bomb that destroys your relationship with your client (or as Vue says, don't make assumptions). Don't forget, clients have expectations about both outcome and services. It's your job to communicate value to the client.
Expectations Must Be Managed
Once you know what your client expects, then you can deal with it by either adjusting how you provide your service to meet the client's expectations or by adjusting the client's expectations. I discuss how you can manage clients' expectations in more depth here.
In addition to ensuring that you don't make assumptions and that you affirmatively discuss the client's expectations in advance of the engagement, the five tips include a suggestion to provide clients with something concrete - other than simply your engagement agreement - that lays out (preferably visually) the key elements of the client's matter to promote discussion, and that you summarize the discussion about the client's expectations in writing.
These steps ensure that the client understands the process and acknowledges the agreed-upon steps to be taken to advance the client's goals.
Get Feedback Throughout the Engagement
The final tip? Check in periodically.
In other words, don't wait until the end of the engagement or until the client affirmatively decides to let you know whether you're meeting their expectations. Instead, make sure that you're communicating with your client throughout the matter to ensure that their goals remain the same and that you're doing what they think you should be doing. Seek feedback on a regular basis.