Managing Client Expectations in the 21st Century
As the global economy rapidly evolves, businesses must respond by re- engineering and, at times, re-inventing themselves. As a profession, we as attorneys have generally been less than proactive in charting new courses in developing and growing our practices. And as immigration practitioners dealing with diverse cultural attitudes and experiences, adaptation to the new economy is doubly important.
This article will explore a variety of issues, centering around several basic premises:
1- Changes in information technology are changing “the practice of law” into “the business of law”, and, as immigration attorneys, we have much to learn from reading and observing how other professions and businesses are responding to the challenges of the new economy.
2- The nature of our attorney-client relationships will rapidly change as the world becomes ever more connected, and those immigration attorneys who plan for these changes will be in the best position to grow and expand their practices
3- We are uniquely fortunate as immigration practitioners in that the Internet and other global communications technologies are more readily adaptable to our particular practice area than just about any other legal discipline.
THE WIZARD OF OZ SYNDROME
The analogy applies to both the legal and medical professions: the client/patient comes in through the door and, in the course of perhaps one or two meetings, we decide on the proper “treatment.” The “prescription” may be an H-1B visa or perhaps an antibiotic, but the process is the same: we analyze, decide, and prescribe behind what is essentially a “curtain”, hidden from the scrutiny of those whom we are seeking to help. In fact, in both professions, we have been encultured to view those who seek to “peek behind the curtain” as meddlers or problem clients/patients. After all, WE”RE the professionals, right? Who are they to get involved in OUR decision-making process when we clearly have their best interest at heart?
Well, thanks to technology, the curtain’s been pulled back and our collective thundering voice of authority is suddenly, in the eyes of our clients/patients, nothing but a strange looking little person on a soapbox speaking through a symbolic megaphone of authority we have created with our expensive advanced degrees. Like the naked emperor strutting his stuff, we are increasingly exposed to our patients and clients, who are slowly having the veil of obedient compliance lifted, and they want to know more: WHY we are recommending a particular course, HOW we came to that decision, WHAT the choices are.
As immigration practitioners, we deal with a literally global potential client base. Our clients surf the leading immigration sites and often hear about new legislation or bad AAU decisions before we do; several years ago, that would catch us off guard. Today, particularly if you deal with a sophisticated business immigration client base, getting “scooped” is routine, and all we can to is frantically scramble to www.aila.org in the hopes that SOMEONE wrote a fresh Newsflash on the issue.
Increasingly, our role as the “wizard”, the know-all of immigration law, is fading into a different role, one more focused on managing information for increasingly-sophisticated clients who demand intelligent explanations as you guide them through the immigration process. In the past, sheltering our clients from the maddening drudgery of case processing, improperly rejected cases at the Service Center, Requests for Further Evidence (RFE’s), etc. was a part of the game plan...oftentimes, we felt they really didn’t need to know. Today, sheltering the innocent means setting yourself up for a bar complaint or, if the stakes are high, perhaps even a malpractice suit. And this is precisely why you must COVER YOUR ASSETS (a/k/a knows as “CYA”) by:
- Creating systems which demand immediate client notification of any information potentially affecting their case, be it an important new precedent decision or a sudden increase in the estimated processing time of the filing
- Slowly and steadily developing a portfolio of CYA letters explaining, in detail, each immigration process, how it works, and what can go wrong. (While this sounds like a nightmare, consider how many times you’ve had to do precisely this to address a client problem you were foreseeing...this suggestion simply involves the systematic organization of those letters, and the ongoing addition of NEW CYA letters on an as- needed basis, into a readily accessible folder which you and your staff can easily access when problems arise, when you sense a difficult client or, better yet, with ANY new client.)
- Structuring into the representation at least one counseling session, over the phone, which allows you to go over in detail the specific steps, processes, and timing of the particular case. Fifteen minutes spent on this and an opportunity to have the client ask their specific questions will often lead to a very smooth and successful attorney/client relationship, simply because you have taken the time to explain the ground rules and dynamics of the immigration process at hand.
Our importance as information providers (remember when Interpreter Releases was all you needed to stay on top of the law?) is fading; our role as information interpreters is forever expanding. It is THOSE attorneys who see this who will be best empowered to give their clients what they are seeking: a collaborative attorney/client partnership working toward the strategic realization of the particular immigration objective.
By partnering with your clients from the beginning, you are fulfilling and exceeding their expectations. Whether your objective is growing your immigration practice via referral or simply minimizing client dissatisfaction and enjoying the peace that comes with proper case handling, you will personally benefit. Partnering with your client means building a team approach to problem resolution, so it’s you and the client against the “enemy” du jour, be it the INS or the DOL or the AAU or a recalcitrant consular officer with a Napoleonic complex.
As immigration practitioners, the world is our proverbial oyster in that our reach is unlimited. Whether your objective is to be the best darn family law expert in greater Hooterville or to build a legal empire focusing on technology clients, the fact that we practice in a federal area of law means we can potentially reach clients anywhere, even abroad. This is a benediction we do not share with our brethren in other legal disciplines, and precisely why it is so important, as immigration practitioners, to stay on top of the opportunities appearing daily for the enhancement and growth of our practices. Whatever your objectives, successfully managing your clients’ expectations will put you ahead of the pack and give all of you – your clients, your staff, and your family – greater peace of mind that, yes, things are indeed proceeding as they should be...
About The Author Jose Latour is the founding partner of Jose E. Latour and Associates, P.A., a Gainesville, Florida based business immigration practice working primarily with the IT industry and foreign investors. JELPA is an A/V rated firm whose web site, www.usvisanews.com, is one of the Internet’s most visited immigration sites. The firm was named “ONE OF AMERICA’S TOP TEN INTERNET/VIRTUAL COMPANIES” in the 1999 Inc. Magazine and Cisco Systems “Growing with Technology Awards.” Mr. Latour served as a U.S. Diplomatic and Consular Officer in Mexico and Africa before entering private practice and today divides his time between his law practice, writing, flying, and his music.
Jose Latour is the founding partner of Jose E. Latour and Associates, P.A., a Gainesville, Florida based business immigration practice working primarily with the IT industry and foreign investors. JELPA is an A/V rated firm whose web site, www.usvisanews.com, is one of the Internet’s most visited immigration sites. The firm was named “ONE OF AMERICA’S TOP TEN INTERNET/VIRTUAL COMPANIES” in the 1999 Inc. Magazine and Cisco Systems “Growing with Technology Awards.” Mr. Latour served as a U.S. Diplomatic and Consular Officer in Mexico and Africa before entering private practice and today divides his time between his law practice, writing, flying, and his music.
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