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Six Things That Drive Clients Crazy
(And What You Can Do to Avoid Them)

by Edward Poll, J.D., M.B.A., CMC

Copyright © 2002, Edward Poll

Clients call lawyers when they have a problem. Business questions, a death in the family, a divorce, an accident, a bankruptcy—all are potential stress producers, and the last thing clients want is more stress or irritation because of their dealings with their attorneys. Lawyers need to find ways to eliminate the unnecessary irritants that really send clients up a wall.

Here are some of the most common complaints that clients have about lawyers plus suggestions for avoiding or mitigating them:

Poor Responsiveness

Failure to return phone calls and to respond to letters or faxes is the number one complaint clients have about lawyers.

THE CURE: The main reasons lawyers give for failing to return phone calls—being out of the office, in trial or doing research on another matter—are usually valid, but that's not a good excuse. Clients want to be assured that their matter is being dealt with. They don't want to feel ignored. Returning phone calls should be considered a top priority activity. If you are unable to respond personally, have a secretary, paralegal, or other lawyer ready to step in and say that you are presently unavailable and will return the call or letter by a certain time or date.

Another reason for clients' unhappiness, particularly applicable to faxes and letters, is that they expect immediate replies because of the proliferation of modern technological tools. Fax machines and overnight delivery services make instant communication possible, but that doesn't make it desirable. In order to avoid a misunderstanding about the timeliness of written replies, the attorney must tell the client at the very first meeting what the response policy is.

Talking To a Machine Instead of a Person

When a client "reaches out and touches" a technological robot without a human face, the stress level goes up. The loss of human contact equals a loss of power, and a loss of power is an irritant for the client.

THE CURE: Voice mail can be a good tool, but not when the client feels trapped by it. Make sure that a receptionist, telephone operator or secretary—a real person—answers the phone for the initial call to the firm. If you're available, you can take the call. If you're not available, then the same person gives the caller the option of leaving a voice mail message or a message with the operator. Clients are empowered by dealing with human beings, not an electronic system.

Not Knowing What's Going On

Clients want to know what's happening with their matter. Even though the lawyer might be doing a great job with documents, the court or the opposing party, if the client doesn't know that, then there's bound to be a problem, usually at fee-paying time.

THE CURE: Clients appreciate communication; the more, the better. Show your clients that you're doing your job by sending them copies of documents or by writing or calling them. "Paper" the client. Keep clients informed and tell them what's happening at every step of the process.

Unnecessary Costs

Clients hate paying for unnecessary service, e.g., using FedEx or messengers when the U.S. mail will do, or for service that they feel provides no value. This open-checkbook problem is most often an issue with open-ended fee arrangements where lawyers run up costs on the client's nickel.

THE CURE: Lawyers need to be very sensitive to costs that are passed on to the client. The test for extraneous costs goes like this: If you were paying for it out of your pocket, would you do it? Since unnecessary costs frequently occur because of attorney procrastination, one way to avoid the problem is simple: Do the work in a timely fashion. That way, you won't have to use rush services.

Lack of Innovation

Because they are risk-averse and tend to be conservative, lawyers have a reputation for being reactive—for being "Mr./Ms. No." But clients usually want someone to suggest ways to make something happen, rather than a list of reasons why not. If lawyers are merely reactive, the client may believe that the attorney is only a technician, and a technician is a commodity who can be easily replaced based on pricing, among other factors.

THE CURE: Clients are looking for lawyers who will help them stay out of trouble or achieve their objectives. That's why they appreciate advice that offers creative approaches to problems. This is called being proactive, and it creates a strong bond between the client and lawyer. To become more proactive, learn the business of the client. Arm yourself with enough knowledge to have an opinion and say: "If you do this, I think that will happen." Clients will always need to make the final decision, but they want to know what you think.

Vague, Confusing and Incomplete Bills

A bill that only says: "For legal services rendered" is an incomplete bill. Clients want to know what they're being charged for and what the successes (or failures) have been. Bills that are inaccurate, vague or confusing are sources of irritation to clients.

THE CURE: Start in the initial client meeting by explaining what and how you are going to bill. Then explain the billing process again, in writing, in the letter of engagement. Be complete in your billing statements. Use action verbs to describe your services. Clearly indicate what transpired, what was researched—who did what, when and what was accomplished. You want clients to have an appreciation of the effort expended and the successes achieved on their behalf.


Think about what you would want if you were a client. A good trial lawyer tries to put himself or herself in the role of a juror or a judge to mold the display of evidence. Likewise, all lawyers should put themselves in the role of clients and act accordingly. Success will follow those who do.

About The Author

Edward Poll, J.D., M.B.A., CMC, coaches lawyers to increased revenues and greater profits. He is a law practice management consultant and best-selling author. For more information, call (800) 837-5880 or e-mail You can also visit Ed on the Web at

Copyright © 2002 American Immigration LLC, ILW.COM