The best way to make clients happy isn’t rocket science. Heck, we learned that one in kindergarten…be kind to others, unselfish, helpful and respectful.  In our great profession this translates into:

  • Showing compassion to all clients big and small;
  • Charging fair, reasonable and clearly explained fees and not getting greedy;
  • Offering clear, legally sound and carefully analyzed advice; and
  • Showing plain, old fashion respect for others just as we want to be treated and respected.

Some attorneys tend to forget one or more of these simple basics of excellent client service causing many of their clients to become frustrated, confused and often beyond angry.  To change such feelings is not easy.  In fact, turning a fed up client into a satisfied one is about as easy as earning an overall college GPA of 3.5 after partying your way to a 1.5 freshman year GPA.  But both can be accomplished in most situations with a firm commitment, plan and sincere on-going efforts on the attorney’s part.

The starter list below offers a few suggestions on how to regain your disgruntled client’s confidence.  One caveat  — this list is for clients who do (or just might) have legitimate gripes with you or your firm and is NOT intended for the lying, chronically late payment types or the won’t-ever-be-pleased clients who should have been sent packing a looooong time ago!

1.     Address the issues immediately.

2.     Give them your undivided attention and adequate time to “tell their story” and to explain their concerns fully without interruption or a defensive attitude.

3.     Be open-minded and empathetic so you can better understand how things appear from your client’s perspective.

4.     Apologize for the miscommunications, their feeling poorly served or disrespectfully treated and for any actual mistakes made, if any.

5.     Show them with your timely actions –not mere promises– that you fully intend to regain and maintain their trust and satisfaction.  Plus, give them more than they expect which includes being resourceful, creative and by all means sincere and committed to finding a solution and making things right.

As mentioned above, this is a starter list and there will no doubt be several other constructive steps you will and should add based on the uniqueness of each situation.  The five shared above, however, are essential basic elements for handling most disgruntled client situations successfully.

One caveat  –  this list is for clients who do (or just might) have legitimate gripes with you or your firm and is NOT intended for lying, chronically late payment types or won’t-ever-be-pleased clients who should have been sent packing a long time ago (after, of course, your making the appropriate attempts to turn their negativity around). Better yet, improve your client selection skills! Listen to your gut instincts more carefully in addition to all the other critical factors to consider before accepting a new client…your expertise (or lack thereof) in the related practice areas, your current caseload volume, their expectations, any related statutes of limitation, etc.

Bottom Line:  Every situation must be carefully reviewed so that the right set of custom-designed solutions can be brainstormed and applied.  Also, if the allegedly negligent attorney refuses to cooperate, then other firm attorneys should immediately step in and take charge of the situation.  And, if you’re a solo who opts to put your head in the sand, then don’t be surprised when the ethical grievance and/or malpractice claims land on your desk. And don’t forget all the negative marketing you will no doubt receive “free of charge” via all your former client’s friends, business associates, church members and the list goes on.

Wish I was sharing some dazzling new data and solutions here, but it’s obviously “stuff” we already know.  With all the lawyer jokes, rising numbers of legitimate malpractice and grievances, however, too many attorneys are apparently forgetting their kindergarten basics. And, all of us privileged to practice law should ethically and morally be:

  • constantly striving to enhance client services;
  • ever mindful of compassionate, respectful and resourceful lawyering; and
  • courageous enough to apologize, make amends, and move positively forward when we mess up.

About the author 

Nancy Byerly Jones

Nancy Byerly Jones and her husband reside on their mountainside ranch (“Little Hee Haw Farm”) with an energetic “family” of horses, donkeys (large and miniature), dogs and cats. Their favorite pastime is sharing the joy and fun of their animals and ranch life with their family, friends and clients.

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