Spring 2019 Gavel Spring Gavel 2019 - Page 14

Don’t Minimize the Importance of Managing Your Side of the Attorney-Client Relationship By Mark Bassingthwaighte Over the years, numerous articles have been written on how to successfully manage attorney-client relationships. Typically, these articles emphasize effective and thorough communication skills, maintaining a professional presentation at all times and in all work spaces, learning all you can about your clients in order to anticipate additional legal needs they might have, taking the time to say thank- you, and the list goes on. Worthwhile info, but time for something else. I have been thinking of late about how hard all the above might be if a lawyer actually didn’t really like many of his clients. What if he or she just found them irritating? Look, I love being a dad but I can assure you when our kids were still at home, there were more than a few times over the years when I was seriously irritated with one or more of them. My point is this: such feelings are normal in relationships of all types, so irritation is likely to be part of the picture in some attorney-client relationships. This is when I realized this topic is worth addressing, because we can all do something about it, as long as we’re aware of the issue and choose to do so. It would be easy to now launch into a short pontification on client selection. All I will say about that here is this, choose wisely and make sure they can pay. No, what I really want to do is look at what you can do to try to minimize the amount of time you spend being irritated with others, primarily clients, because when you’re irritated with any or all of them, the relationships involved can become stressed and your work product can suffer. The obvious initial question I asked myself was why might a lawyer become irritated with one or more clients? The immediate answer that came to mind was because she wasn’t properly managing her side of the relationship. Again, when I was irritated with my kids, it was often because they were bothering me at a time when I didn’t want to be bothered. I respectfully suggest clients can get under your skin just as easily if you allow it. The good news is this is something you have a great deal of control over. Let’s start by considering your overall workload. If, or perhaps when, you allow your workload to get out of hand, you become the one responsible for giving clients a reason to bother you. Depending upon the frequency of the interruptions, relationships can start to become strained and go south big time. Here’s what I’m getting at. Almost by definition, effectively managing attorney-client relationships demand you manage your side of the relationship. You must help them help you do what they have hired you to do. So what can you do? For starters, learn to say no. No to additional work that’s out of your comfort zone or work you truly don’t have time to take on. Think about it. When you say yes to work you really should be saying no to, this is the work where procrastination is most likely to be in play and that invites relationship problems. After all, who isn’t annoyed by someone (like a client) asking about why work isn’t being done when we know deep down it should have been. When you fail to say no, you are the one creating the problem, not your clients. Learn to say no. It can be as easy as simply saying, “While I sincerely appreciate your continued loyalty, my legal judgment tells me you will be best served by my assisting you in finding an attorney with the level of experience this particular matter calls for.” In a similar vein, if you have allowed your workload to rise to the level where any interruption is truly burdensome or the workload is such that it’s beginning to seriously impede your ability to have a life outside of the office, perhaps the time has come to hire additional staff. Think about it this way. For the legal practitioner, relief isn’t spelled r-o-l-a-i-d-s, it’s spelled d-e-l-e-g-a-t-e! More importantly, educate your clients. Literally help them help you. Set aside specific blocks of time to respond to email, take and return ALPS Risk Manager Mark Bassingthwaighte, Esq., has conducted more than 1,000 law firm risk management assessment visits, presented numerous continuing legal education seminars throughout the United States, and written extensively on risk management and technology. Check out Mark’s recent seminars to assist you with your solo practice by visiting our on-demand CLE library at alps.inreachce.com. Mark can be contacted at mbass@alpsnet.com. 14 THE GAVEL