In his Ignite Law 2011 presentation “A Failure to Communicate,” Jim Calloway addressed the issue of how to manage client expectations for returning phone calls [around the 3:25 mark on the YouTube version].
- Discuss with each new client the challenges of returning calls — “Tell them it’s hard.”
- Set an office policy
- Empower staff to help you follow it
- Discuss the client’s preferred methods of communication (e.g. e-mail, paper systems)
- Provide regular status reports
- “Make sure they understand how this is going to work.”
The problem with that approach is that it can’t work, and it won’t work as long as lawyers stand between clients and information. Chronic client frustration with the prompt return of phone calls isn’t really about courtesy or responsiveness; it’s about the clients’ sense that they lack personal agency and control.
A better solution to alleviate the need for and urgency around calls (and emails, for that matter) is to give clients direct access to some of their case information through online collaboration tools.
By necessity, lawyers are strict information gatekeepers, and until recently there were no practical or secure options for providing clients direct access to their own case information. But offering clients online content sharing and project management platforms like Dropbox and Basecamp has the psychological and practical benefit of offering clients an alternative to calls and e-mails.
Some clients will want to take advantage of these platforms; others will not. Either way, both you and your clients win. Instead of asking clients for forbearance, you’re offering them peace of mind.
An upcoming post will detail how a solo practitioner in Arizona is using a mobile online collaboration application to satisfy and empower his clients, and to differentiate his practice.