Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 9

F

CAREER & PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

or attorneys, the purpose of the client
intake process is to determine if potential
clients and their cases are a good fit
for your firm. For the client, the intake
process is a particularly unique and important
time: It is when the client believes in you
wholeheartedly, as they have chosen you
to resolve a particularly difficult problem. It
sets the tone for the rest of the engagement.
Done well, the client intake process can make it more likely that the representation goes smoothly, your client is happy, you get paid on time, and you receive
a referral from your client. Adopting the recommendations below will improve
your client intake process and help you avoid some all-too-common pitfalls:
unhappy clients, unpaid bills, clients switching attorneys, and clients considering filing a claim against you.

1. Outline fees and billing. If you would like to be paid on time, set clear

expectations with clients about when they will receive bills, when those bills
must be paid, and when retainer accounts must be replenished. Explain to
them that over the course of representation, bills will vary depending on the
activity needed.
For some of my coaching clients, I recommend having the person responsible
for billing lead this part of the discussion. First, some lawyers and paralegals do
not understand billing well enough to explain the process simply and clearly to
the client. Second, clients, once delinquent, sometimes choose to avoid all calls
from your billing department. However, if your clients already have met your
billing person, they are more likely to see that person as an ally and work with
him or her to resolve the payment problem.
The best time to set expectations with your clients about billing is at the outset
when they are on particularly good terms with you.

2. Establish guidelines for communication. Clients need to know the best

way to contact you and how quickly they can expect you to return calls or
emails. You might explain that there are times when you will be in court or
depositions and cannot immediately return a call, but that you will always reach
out to them within one business day. You might also explain that there may be
quiet times when no real activity is happening on their case to set the expectation that you will not always be in regular contact.
This is also the time to set expectations with clients about how quickly they
need to return your calls or emails and to make sure that you know the best
way to contact them.
There are two additional steps that go a long way toward making your clients
happy. First, if you are unable to return a client's call or have an extended discussion when he or she contacts you, you can always quickly set up a time to talk
(or have your assistant do so). That way, your clients know when their question
will be answered and will wait more patiently.
Second, during quiet times in cases, consider calling your clients to let them
know when they should expect to hear from you next and why. Typically, I

recommend contacting clients once per month to say hello and to remind
them of why their case is quiet and when they should expect to hear from you
again. Clients can be forgetful; sometimes they interpret silence on your end as
you not paying attention to their case. Reaching out to them shows that you
care and that you are their advocate. This reminder is a great way to increase
client satisfaction - and can result in a client who refers another matter or
client to you.

3. Manage expectations about results. Attorney-client relationships get

out of hand when a client expects more than you can realistically deliver. It pays
to discuss what outcome will make the client happy and what you believe you
can deliver upfront. If your clients have unrealistic expectations, even an excellent outcome will disappoint them.
I am not suggesting that you talk the client out of bringing their case - not at
all. However, if the client thinks that their case is a slam dunk and you know it
isn't, it is essential to set expectations clearly at the beginning so that you and
the client are on the same page. This discussion could also prevent claims
against you.

4. Introduce your client to your staff. This has a number of benefits:

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The client will see that there is a team working hard for them.
The client will be more receptive to emails and calls from your paralegal,
legal assistant, or receptionist.
Your staff is more likely to feel a connection to the client. All of us work
harder and feel better about what we do when we meet the person we
are helping through a difficult time.

Client relationships always start out great. These relationships are yours to build
and strengthen or to ignore. Do it well and you might have a client for life who
enthusiastically refers others to you. Do it poorly and, well, we all know what
can happen there.
In the end, you will love your practice more if you focus on building client
relationships from the start. Carefully setting expectations during intake is an
opportunity to do just that.

Geoffrey B. Gilbert is a member of the D.C. Bar and a long-time executive coach
for attorneys. Reach him at geoff@coachforexecutives.com.
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JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019

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WASHINGTON LAWYER

9


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Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Career & Professional Development
Calendar of Events
Goverment & Gavel
Feature: Fighting the Stigma: The D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program
Feature: The Road to Wellness
Feature: Taking the Stand: How Corporate Monitorships Rein in Misbehavior
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading & Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask The Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Career & Professional Development
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Goverment & Gavel
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Feature: Fighting the Stigma: The D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program
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Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Feature: The Road to Wellness
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Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Feature: Taking the Stand: How Corporate Monitorships Rein in Misbehavior
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 33
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Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 37
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Worth Reading & Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 39
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - 41
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Ask The Ethics Experts
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Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
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Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Community & Connections
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Washington Lawyer - January/February 2019 - Last Word
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