In order to improve my practice and deliver better representation to clients, I have been taking opportunities to ask other professionals in the field of family transitions through divorce what they hear their clients complain about when it comes to their divorce lawyers.
Two recent interviews reveal that the overwhelming issue falls into the category of attorney-client communication.
It seems that clients’ chief complaints are a lack of prompt replies from their lawyers, and a lack of substantive, proactive communication. Let’s take each of these subjects in turn.
How to be a Better Attorney
Lack of prompt replies.
Interviewee # 1, provides professional financial advice and analysis to divorcing spouses in high net worth cases, told me that the clients he has worked with complained that their attorneys often did not return their calls promptly when they had questions.
This is a tougher issue than one might imagine. For example, I am not always available when I am in court, and can’t always respond immediately to calls or emails. I try to manage my clients’ expectations that this can occur in our first meeting. My assistant is introduced early in the process as an integral part of my team. So, if the client can’t reach me for some reason, he or she can usually reach her, and she and I check in with one another when I am out of the office.
It is helpful for me to hear about this, though, as I intend to discuss this issue with my assistant at our next team meeting.
Lack of substantive, proactive communication.
Interviewee # 2 is someone I’ve known for years. She is developing a coaching service for people post-divorce who want objective, intuitive, and empathic feedback on life and family transitions. She imparted to me that clients often are less than happy with litigation going on around them, while they are in an emotional state, often last minute, at great cost, and they aren’t sure why or what the litigation is intended to accomplish. I’ve heard this one before.
This, too, can be a tough issue for the lawyer to tackle.
In my practice, I try to analyze the client’s goals in the first meeting, and to develop a method and strategy for achieving those goals – while balancing the client’s stated goals with an honest assessment of what I call “system deliverables.”
System deliverables is an assessment of the viability of the client’s stated goals within the context of the known facts of the case, what judge has been assigned to the case and their track record on similar issues (to the extent that track record is consistent and known to me), case law, statute, and legal trends.
Finally, what it may cost to achieve the client’s goals is discussed as a real factor. Developing a strategy after careful analysis only gets the client so far if the resources aren’t available for legal fees and costs, such as expert witnesses, forensic accountants, and other professionals, and the client and attorney should have that discussion.
Again, it was helpful for me to hear about such complaints. I’ve long been an advocate of telling the client what they need to know, rather than what they want to hear. I will remember this conversation in my next client meeting and put it to use in our discussions.
From the client’s perspective, it may be useful for them to think about what irks them, and to tell their attorney that they could do better in certain areas. None of us are perfect and we can all learn to be better at what we do and how we communicate.