Many clients have little to no experience with the legal system when they first consult a lawyer. Whether their legal issue is a personal one or is business-related, the experience of consulting a lawyer or being embroiled in a legal matter can be emotional and confusing, particularly for first-time clients. Too often, problems arise in the attorney-client relationship due not to a failure of technical skill or legal knowledge on the part of the lawyer, but to a failure to understand or meet the client’s expectations, to relieve their anxiety or guide them appropriately through this foreign territory. This breakdown can usually be avoided if the lawyer manages expectations appropriately.
Whether the client is consulting a lawyer for the first time or has worked with lawyers for years, every client comes to the first legal consultation with perceptions, accurate or not, about the matter, the legal system and lawyers in general. Failing to find out what they are and address them can jeopardize the relationship. But lawyers can get so caught up in their expertise, skills, experience and in providing the service or solution that they think is best for the client that they forget to listen to the client to find out what the client believes they want and need. Or they don’t take the time to explain to clients why their expectations cannot be met. To make matters worse, lawyers too often evaluate their own performance based upon outcomes alone, rather than the client’s experience with their firm, which can be the most valuable measure of a client’s satisfaction.