Do clients expect too much? Do they want everything right away? A divorce is a painful and sometimes, slow process. The legal system is confusing to say the least. With our rapid means of communication, I am finding that people are expecting instant results. If this blog was being written twenty years ago, there would be no e-mail. It would not be called a blog, but an article. Attorneys and clients would be communicating by snail mail, by phone, and perhaps by fax. I am finding that because of e-mail, and the fact that you can have instantaneous communication, people expect instantaneous results. We seem to be moving at faster and faster pace where with the click of a computer key, a message can be sent, a demand made, and too often an instantaneous response expected. How should attorneys handle this deluge of instant communication requests?
1) I believe that in the initial consultation we should try to give a client some realistic expectations. I often tell clients that a divorce is not a hundred-yard-dash, but it is more like a marathon. It is a frustrating, painful experience, and you feel that you cannot make it, but you will get through it.
2) At the initial consultation, the attorney should give realistic expectations not only as to what to expect in the legal system regarding a divorce, but what to expect by way of communication between attorney and client. I try to return e-mails every day if possible. I try to return all phone calls within 24 hours. I also communicate fully by mail and feel that clients should be copied in on everything because this is the client’s life, and a client should be treated with respect and know exactly what is going on.
Sometimes that becomes impossible, especially when a case is one where the attorney is being inundated and deluged with e-mails, court motions and other legal proceedings. If it looks like things are spinning out of control or the client is demanding too much too soon, it is important to set up a meeting, either in person preferably, or by phone, to discuss some reasonable and realistic expectations. Again, communication is critical.
3) Client dissatisfaction that can lead to grievances occurs where attorneys do not communicate. Attorneys who refuse or fail to return phone calls, who fail to respond to e-mails or fail to keep clients up to date on a case, are asking for a grievance, or perhaps even a malpractice case. Communication is critical. It is important for the attorney and a client to try to be on the same page regarding communication and it is important for the attorney to explain to the client that instant gratification will not work. It is also important for the attorney not to give unrealistic expectations or over-sell a case in order to be retained by a client. This will lead to disappointments and problems down the road, especially when expectations and reality do not match.
These are some of my thoughts and comments. What are yours?
By: HENRY S. GORNBEIN
Family Law Attorney & Legal Correspondent
40900 Woodward Avenue, Ste. 111
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304-5116
248/594-3444; Fax 248/594-3222