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Understanding The Underside: 

 Why Your Attorney Doesn't Call You Back

July 29, 2019

Last week I talked about how attorneys fail to launch a successful approach to client communications. As promised, this week I’m going to delve into the flipside, or for this post The Communication Underside (a little Stranger Things reference for those who don’t know) and discuss the client’s accountability in the situation.

Much like Joyce waiting on that one phone call from Will, her son, clients are anxious to hear from their attorney. But before you jump to the conclusion that they may have been swallowed up by a Demogorgon, let's face the facts. They probably aren't calling you or responding to your texts, phone calls, etc. for a very valid reason: You're expecting too much and going bat crazy for no just cause. Let me explain.

The main reason you aren't hearing from your attorney or getting any type of response is that there is nothing to tell! Granted, the attorney should make every effort to keep you up-to-date on specifics of your case, but when there's nothing happening at that moment, they may not feel the need to respond. Give the attorney the benefit of the doubt and let him do his job without bombarding them with excessive demands of communication.

Keeping that in mind, the attorney doesn’t have time to chat. For attorneys, time is money, and they don’t have the time to talk to you every single day. Look at it like this: The attorney has other clients with pressing deadlines. They have to handle those cases first. You'll get your turn, just be patient.

Along those same lines, the attorney is in court and can't respond on your timeframe. Yes, some attorneys have a scheduled court appearance EVERY SINGLE DAY. Sounds crazy, right? Well, what did you think they did all day? They have other clients to tend to. You aren't the only one with legal problems that they've been hired to help. Be considerate not only of your attorney's time but also to their other clients. They deserve the attorney’s time just as much as you do.

Speaking of consideration, think about the fact that the attorney has a personal life that has to be dealt with. I know. You don’t care. But they do, and most times their family will come first, as it should. Of course, their personal strife should never interfere with your case, but at the same time, you as the client should allow some leeway and give them time to deal with their own personal issues. You expect it from your employer, so allow the same consideration to your legal counsel.

Ok. Here's a biggie. You aren't technically the client. I don't care if you're the client's mama, baby-mama, brother, sister, or second cousin twice removed. I don't care if you're the one that paid the attorney. The fact remains: You aren't the client! There's this thing called attorney-client privilege, and the attorney isn't about to risk their law practice to speak with you.

If you are technically the client, are you taking the attorney’s advice? Are you doing/not doing things as you’ve been advised? If not, then why did you hire an attorney to begin with? The less you take the advice of your attorney, the less likely they are going to want to talk to you. And believe me, they won’t.

Now that we've cleared the "why" of the situation let this Legal Liaison give you, the client, a few pointers on how to get your attorney to communicate with you.

  • For the love of God, don’t call the office or the attorney’s cell phone 100 times a day. Only call when it’s important and only demand a response from the actual attorney when the situation is dire. Let the attorney’s staff take care of you as much as possible. Last week, I encouraged attorneys to call clients back within 24 hours. Now you give them 24 hours to return your call.

  • On that note, when speaking with the staff, DO NOT get snarky, condescending, or flat out rude with them. I don't care what your attorney did or didn't do, it isn't the staff's fault. If you're pissed, save it for the attorney. When you vent to the staff to the point that they don't want to talk to you, you can best believe the chances of you getting a response from the attorney is slim to none. Nice clients move to the top of the return call list. The jerks are tossed in the 'I'll catch ya later’ pile.

  • If you call the office and get voicemail, leave a message! Don't just hang up and call right back over and over. You're just pissing everybody off. The whole point of voicemail is to make sure no call goes unnoticed while the staff is taking care of other issues; however, if you don't leave a message or leave some rambling message that makes no sense, you aren't getting a callback. Leave a brief and concise message and give the staff or the attorney time to call you back. And here's another thing. DO NOT call 100 times back-to-back all the while not leaving messages then decide it's a good idea to drop by the office. Um, they didn't answer because they were busy and didn't have time, henceforth the voicemail concept. If you just drop in on them without an appointment, you're adding fuel to the no-call fire. Don't do it. Again, give them 24 hours to respond. After that, call again but don’t act a clown and call every 5 minutes. Twenty-four is the magic number. Stick to that rule, and you'll get better results.

  • When you do get to speak with the attorney or a member of their staff, don’t babble the same stuff and waste everybody’s time. Get to the point. You don’t have to go over every single detail regarding your case from the beginning of time. They have your file. They know the background. Tell them what’s new and keep it on point. If you want to express your dissatisfaction on the handling of the case or the lack of communication, then do it constructively. There's no need to cuss and fuss every single time you talk to somebody and quit threatening a bar complaint. Establish yourself as a respectful client and you’ll see much better communication results. Remember: You aren't the only one who can scream "you're fired." Attorneys are known to "fire" clients and believe me, they will.

Now if nothing above helps pave the way for better communication, make an appointment for a phone call but don’t expect the conversation to last more than 10 to 15 minutes. Again, be respectful of everybody’s time. If that doesn’t work, make an appointment to meet with the attorney face-to-face. If the staff doesn’t want to make the appointment, remind them that they have an ethical obligation to keep you informed about your case. Demand that an appointment be made by the end of the day or you will explore all options available to you to speak with the attorney and get updates. Again, don’t threaten a bar complaint. No, using the term “ethical obligation” is code red for bar complaint without you having to say it. If you still aren’t satisfied, find another attorney.

But before you seek out new legal counsel, don’t forget we can help. No matter what your situation may be concerning lack of communication with your attorney, Legal Liaisons can assist. Give us a call and let the experts lead you out of The Communication Underside and back to Not So Stranger Things.

Failure to Launch: Attorney-Client Communication

July 22, 2019

Does anybody remember the 2006 movie, Failure to Launch? It's the one where the parents of an aging son (played by Matthew McConaughey…meow!) who refuses to embark on adulthood hire an expert to date him trying to push him to move out of their home. In their opinion, he had failed to launch into adulthood. Now take the concept of failing to launch and apply it to attorneys. 

I know what you're thinking: What in the hot mess are you talking about and what does that have to do with attorneys? Well, it’s simple. In the same respect of Matthew McConaughey's failing to launch as an adult, many attorneys and law firms have failed to launch as communicators, the one thing that means the most to clients.

A recent article in The Lawyerist revealed that fewer than 10% of clients or potential clients who call a law firm speak to an actual lawyer. Sadly, more than 40% of people who leave a voicemail at a law firm wait two to three days before they hear back if they hear from them at all.

Those figures sadden this Legal Liaison. We're talking about great attorneys who work hard for their clients, yet they fail at communicating with them. What most attorneys don’t understand is that communication is a form of customer service (often referred to as client service in professional environments). This service generates client rapport and one that clients fully expect once they've spent their hard-earned money on legal representation. Nobody likes being ignored, and nobody likes the feeling that their attorney doesn't care. 

Now let’s be clear: This isn’t entirely the attorney’s fault. Inadequate, unqualified, and uncaring staff contribute to these high rates; however, it is the attorney’s responsibility to maintain an appropriate policy regarding communication and client service. No matter who may be at fault, the bottom line is that most law firms are terrible client service providers.

Frustrating as it may be, there’s a reason most attorneys fail at communication. The truth is, they don’t give much thought to effective communication. It all started in law school for them, where they focused on substantive law and legal theory. In other words, they weren’t taught anything about effective communication, so they don’t know that it matters. Adequate communication skills don’t come naturally for most attorneys and must be learned, yet law schools fail to recognize this aspect and rarely promote the notion. Continuing legal education, a requirement for attorneys, perpetuates the problem by only broaching the subject from the standpoint designated by the Rules of Professional Conduct and not through the humanistic side.

That’s just a shame. Without effective communication, the attorney-client relationship goes to hell in a handbasket fast. Failure to communicate leads the client to believe the attorney lacks empathy for their situation and leads to a lack of trust and misunderstandings.

So what’s the solution? Although there’s no clear-cut solution to the problem, here are few tips coming from the ultimate Legal Liaison herself to help guide all those attorneys who have failed to launch communication with their clients:

  • Treat your client like you want to be treated. It's a fact that any type of legal issue a client may have tends to bring out the worst in them. People are usually tense, anxious, and frightened about the legal system, their present situation, and their future. To provide the ultimate client service experience, everybody in the office should have a basic understanding of emotional intelligence and interpersonal communication. Attorneys: learn it and demand that your staff responds to clients with a professional level of empathy. Don't allow yourself or any member of your team to talk down to clients, ignore their phone calls, or refuse to respond to a client’s request of updates on their case. Just a simple text can go a long way in securing client satisfaction.
  • Hire exceptional staff. Make sure the person who answers the phone speaks in a cordial tone and doles out patience like Halloween candy to trick-or-treaters. Promote a client-focused attitude throughout your office. If you have anybody working for you that can’t do this, pull a Trump and fire them.
  • Become detail-oriented with your clients. Take the time to send emails to "touch base" not only about their case, but also about any changes that may have occurred in their lives. Showing you care increases trust and solidifies a relationship that will likely lead to referrals and repeat business.
  • Create a communication policy and stick to it. When I say this, I mean have an actual written policy and make sure that you and your staff stay consistent in following that policy. Explain to clients your policy on communication in the initial meeting and include a packet that outlines the procedure along with general information about the type of case they may have. For example, have an information packet designed for divorce clients explaining the general process ahead. In this packet, include a cheat sheet regarding policies on communicating with clients and when they should expect updates. Explain your billing process and be consistent in providing timely invoices. Not only are you more likely to get paid, but you're also establishing realistic expectations for yourself and the client.
  • Here’s a mind-blower that nobody is going to like: Call your clients back within 24 hours. Yes, I said it. Twenty-four hours. I don’t care if you don’t have an answer to their question or you don’t have a real update to give, call them. You have no excuse to avoid talking to your clients. Show some consideration and call them within a reasonable amount of time. If you can’t call, email, text, fax, or at least have a staff member call them. Go all Nike and “JUST DO IT!”.
  • For the love of all that is good in this world, keep your clients informed. According to The Lawyerist, the number one bar complaint derives from clients feeling that their attorney doesn't keep them informed. This lack of client contact is where your communication policy comes into play. During the initial consultation, explain your policy, give them the cheat sheet, and then actually adhere to the procedure using email, phone calls, text messages, mail, providing them with copies of documents, or whatever means you can muster to let them know what's going on.

Let's face it: It doesn't matter if you're the Lincoln Lawyer. If you're a "failure to launch" communication attorney, you're running the risk of a bad reputation, loss of clients, stunted law firm growth, and potential bar complaints.

Attorneys, if you feel you don’t have the time, the skills, or the capacity to get started in your new endeavor of promoting excellent client service, contact the experts at Legal Liaisons, LLC. Let us set up a communication policy with employee training. With our help, you can provide excellent client service with the expectation of happy clients, which in turn will make your practice flourish.

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