It’s an inevitable consequence of law practice. At some point during your legal career, you will encounter a client who is less than satisfied with you and your legal practice. Even the most dedicated and meticulous attorneys cannot completely avoid the, sometimes irrational, complaints of a disgruntled client.
When these unfortunate situations arise, you must make some important decisions. You can ignore the concerns of your client and take the risk of receiving a formal complaint, or you can address the problem quickly and effectively to protect your legal practice and possibly maintain the client relationship.
The attorney-client relationship is a peculiar one, but don’t forget that they are also customers who pay for a service. As such, some basic customer service skills can prove invaluable when dealing with an angry client:
- Keep your cool – As an attorney, you may not mind engaging in adversarial communications. After all, it’s your job to fight against opposing interests. But this is not the time to flex your lawyer muscles. Blowing up at an angry client will only make the matter worse, while bringing your professionalism into question. It will also likely make the client even more upset and ready to further their complaint.
- It’s only business – Generally, the complaints of your client are geared towards your business practices, not your personality or character. Remember this fact as you communicate with your client. Keep a business perspective and handle the conversation as you would any other formal business matter.
- Apologizing – As I stated earlier, not every complaint is a valid one. However, there may be times when your actions or inactions did actually cause a problem for your client. When this is the case, don’t be too proud for a sincere apology. I know this may go against everything your law professors ever taught you about admitting liability. But sometimes, a deserved apology can go a long way towards soothing over a contentious situation.
- Find common ground – You are a lawyer and you know better than most that there is usually a mutually beneficial solution to any problem. This situation is no different, so try to find some common ground. If you can fix the relevant issue. You may be able to satisfy your client and maintain the client relationship.
- Seek reinforcements – If one-on-one communication is not working, try bringing in a third party to calm the storm. This may be another attorney or even a mediator. Most state bar associations offer fee dispute services where they assist in settling disagreements over legal fees. This may be a viable option for your client’s specific complaint.
An essential part of a successful legal practice is customer service. You must recognize the interests of your clients and take steps to deescalate negative situations as they arise. Ignoring the calls or messages of an angry client only makes the situation worse and can lead to a formal complaint with the Bar. Don’t let inaction negatively affect your reputation. Take proactive steps to immediately address the concerns of disgruntled clients.
About Erika Winston:
Erika Winston is a Virginia based writer with a passion for all things legal. As a former domestic relations attorney, she understands the challenge of determining the best fee structure for your practice. Erika is a regular contributor to TimeSolv and a variety of other publications.