Tips and Tricks for Dealing with Clients
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
When you're studying at Law School, the idea of working with clients and solving real-life problems sounds appealing, and it is. But you're also divorced from the reality of what it entails. Once you begin dealing with clients yourself – either as a summer clerk or in your first job – you might feel completely out of your depth. However, building client relationships is a crucial skill for lawyers, because if you don't have clients, you don't have work. Here are some of my top tricks and tips for dealing with clients:
1. Get a feel for the client and their case before you meet Where possible, try to get at least a vague understanding of the client and what kind of legal advice and representation they are seeking. This is important so that you can tailor your interactions appropriately. Let's imagine that you're speaking to the director of a major company that engages you firm frequently. With clients like these, you might be able to use legal jargon during your conversations because they'll be familiar with standard legal processes. But if you're dealing with a client who has never been involved in litigation before, stay away from the legal jargon – its just likely to confuse the client and cause them even more stress. Instead, take the time to explain things in an easy-to-understand manner, and make sure that the client feels relaxed and comfortable in what is no doubt a challenging time for them.
If you can, read the client's file and do a little preliminary research before you meet them.
2. Where appropriate, try to get to know your client
You should refrain from oversharing personal details about your life, or unnecessarily asking your clients about the intimate details of their lives. However, if they disclose those details first, strive to build enough rapport with the client to put them at ease. So, for example, if you find out while getting their address that the client lives in your neighbourhood, there's no harm in mentioning you live there too. If the client references their kids, go ahead and ask how old they are. If you've discussed things like hobbies and families before, ask about these things when you next see the client. Remember that consulting a lawyer is stressful. You want to make the experience as pleasant for clients as possible and show them that you really care about them.
3. But also, keep it professional
While talking about your lives, backgrounds and hobbies with clients on a superficial level is incredibly beneficial to building client relationships, it’s important to maintain boundaries. You must remember that it is not in your or your client’s best interests to become their friend – you need to represent them independently. Part of that is making sure that you are not too enmeshed in their lives. You also do not want to end up in a situation where you cannot end a relationship with a disgruntled client. Maintaining boundaries with your client can be as simple as not adding them on your personal social media, contact numbers and email addresses. It's also ill-advised to socialise with them outside of a professional function or capacity.
4. It's ok to say you don't know
Clients sometimes come in with a lot of specific legal questions that they want you to answer. As a law student or young lawyer, it can feel embarrassing to tell the client that you don't know the answer. Explain to the client that the law is all about analysis and research. You should be comfortable telling clients that you need to review the facts in detail and conduct research before you can give them an answer to their questions. This is much better than just spouting out an answer off the top of your head that turns out to be wrong but that the client relies on (which can get you in a lot of trouble later). After all, if you were a doctor, you wouldn't give a person a diagnosis without running tests, right? The same goes for lawyering.
Maybe don't make this expression, though.
5. Keep the client updated
If the client leaves you a voicemail or sends you an email, make sure you answer promptly, even if it's just to let them know that you are still working on their issue or you are waiting to consult with a senior lawyer. Make sure you also update the client regularly whenever something important happens in their case. It is also a good idea to copy senior lawyers into all communications with clients. If you're ever in doubt about what to say to a client, run it past the senior lawyer working on the matter first. It's best to be very careful about making sure emails to clients are accurate and convey the proper tone.
Footage of junior lawyer keeping clients updated by email and phone.
6. Look out for training opportunities
Dealing with certain clients can come with a lot of unexpected obstacles. For example, if your client struggles with English, you might want to look for some training on communicating effectively in these situations. Similarly, if clients are seeking your assistance with traumatic matters, like workplace harassment or family law issues, you can sign up for continuing legal education courses that advise how best to interact with clients in these situations while being sensitive to their feelings and needs. The last thing you want is to offend or re-traumatise your client! Also, if you work with clients who are seeking justice for traumatic experiences, this can be very draining on you. Therefore, you may want to learn about dealing with secondary trauma. 7. Don't put up with bad behaviour
If a client is overtly rude or offensive to you, or sexually or racially harasses you, report it to a senior lawyer. Your workplace should never put you in a situation where you feel unsafe with a client, no matter how vital that client is. If your workplace does not do anything about the clients' lousy behaviour after you report it, report it to the relevant lawyers' standards body. By speaking to a mentor outside the firm, you'll have more support. Consider looking for a new job regardless of the outcome.
Never forget this!
Hopefully these tips will help you develop client relationships and work effectively. Now go out there and get lawyering!