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Dec 09, 2015

Managing Client Expectations: Strike a Good Balance

Featuring Terry Silver

As seen in The Legal Intelligencer

Does what you say and what your client hears correlate? Is your vision of an outcome in line with your client's vision? Do you maintain sufficient communication with your client so, as the expression goes, you are "on the same page"? The client's view of our level of service often depends on the quality of communication and the similarity or difference in expectations.

We represent clients for an array of reasons, and in all of these engagements, there is some monetary or lifestyle result. We are best served when we listen to the client to determine their level of expectation versus what we believe the actual outcome may be. In most client relationships, an unreasonable level of expectation is the norm due to the fact they have usually never been exposed to such a situation, and they may well be emotionally invested. Thus, unreasonable client expectations should not be a surprise to us. Just today, in a conversation with a client, she could not get past the amount of an uncollectible receivable, versus concentrating her efforts on making the best economic deal possible, given the circumstances. Our job is to assist in crafting the best settlement possible, but this cannot be done until we understand, and then manage, our client's expectations.

Every outcome we are engaged to handle will have a monetary impact to our clients, including commercial litigation, lost profits, business valuation, mergers and acquisitions, taxing results and many others. My experience has taught me to listen carefully to what my clients are saying (and not saying), to interpret nuance as best possible, and to proactively communicate with them. Success is measured when a matter concludes with results that are viewed similarly by both the client and the professional.

To best manage the expectations of my clients, I employ the following routines:

  • I do not delay in responding to a client, especially when I know the client has a sticky issue. I find the longer I take in addressing the matter, the more difficult the issue, the communication and the relationship becomes.
  • I make the client aware of the positions the opposition will take; those which are stronger and those which are weaker. Similarly, I advise the client which of our positions are stronger and which are weaker.
  • I must usually remind the client that the "ask" and the "buy" are never the same. Clients can fool themselves into believing the initial strategic position is righteous, as opposed to what it actually is: the beginning of a process.
  • Never, ever deliver bad news on a voice mail or email.
  • Measure your responses to ensure the client never loses sight of whose side you are on.
  • Listen, listen, listen.
As is the case with most relationships, this process strikes a fine balance. We don't want to go so far in to imbue our clients with a reality which may result in our termination. Conversely, we certainly don't want to pander to a client's unreasonable expectations of the results. Like any negotiation, a client relationship is a process; one to be carefully managed.
Reprinted with permission from the December 9, 2015 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. © 2015 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.