It’s Not About Returning Calls: Satisfying Clients Through Online Information Access

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.


  1. Thank You for this informative and engaging post. I agree with your position 100 Percent! Disclosure:I work for LDDS, a hosted legal collaboration platform and work product repository for corporate law departments and their preferred outside counsel/legal service suppliers.

    LDDS believes that it is vital for clients to have secure, mobile access to the latest work product and status reports regarding their matters. This solution not only makes obsolete traditional modes of communication (phone calls/ e-mails), but it also transforms your platform into the message itself.
    I Look forward to reading your next post!
    – Douglas Weeden

    • Jay Pinkert says:


      Thanks for your comments. I’m glad that you brought up enterprise-level collaboration platforms because innovation in your space quickly translates into new applications for small firms and solos as well.

      As I said in the post, providing clients the capability to access and contribute information on their own– whether or not they choose to do so — has both psychological and practical benefits. The medium is indeed the message.

  2. Jay, interesting topic. I would be surprised if any client would like the sound of anyone telling them it’s hard to return all phone calls in a timely manner.

    If that was replaced with giving the client the ability to talk to someone else with credibility on the team, or to give them the excellent option you suggested, then the chances of the relationship remaining strong are much greater.

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