I was more than a little surprised to read that some firms have threatened legal action against clients who have posted adverse comments on TripAdvisor-style websites. They need to take a good long look in the mirror. Nothing is so precious and yet so vulnerable as a firm’s reputation – and that goes for everyone in it.
Just a word in the wrong influential ear and a fee-earner can be imputed (rightly or wrongly) with faults, ranging from undue delay, to failure to communicate, to incompetence.
So what areas can be simply addressed to limit the risks?
It may seem obvious, but replying promptly to phone calls, emails and faxes is paramount. Most clients are anxious. They need constant reassurance that if progress is not being made in their matter, at least they are told why. Nothing can do more damage than keeping a client out of the loop.
Clients, particularly in civil or matrimonial disputes, will generally realise that however good and industrious you may be, you are not a miracle worker.
But beware of keeping beneficiaries waiting unnecessarily after a death. They can be the least forgiving of all.
A really hot area is that of costs. Too many of us have historically been on the defensive about hourly rates. We may not really think we are worth it. The client will soon come to the same conclusion, unless we explain clearly what we are doing and why.
It is best to be bold about charging. Clients will normally take you at your own value, but if you hit the buffers in a big way always be prepared to sit down, discuss and compromise.
It makes sense. It is better to have money in the bank, than face an issue which gives the client a good opportunity to bad mouth you all the way to the court. In the end, it comes down to a simple choice with complaints. Either suck it up or improve.
John Greenwood, Chippenham, Wiltshire