chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
September 10, 2015 Articles

Tips for Young Lawyers: Improve Responsiveness to Impress Clients

Excelling in an area that most attorneys struggle in is a good way to win over your clients

By Ryan A. Starnes

A common complaint from clients is lack of responsiveness and communication from counsel. Indeed, responsiveness and effective communication are both skills that can be improved, just like any other skill an attorney needs to be successful. Developing and utilizing a system to ensure you are adequately responding to and effectively communicating with clients will help develop these skills. The system described herein is just one of many ways a young attorney might address returning client voicemails and emails, and regularly reporting to the client. Excelling in an area that most attorneys struggle in is a good way to impress clients.

Early in the client relationship, discuss the client's expectations for returning phone calls and emails and providing regular reports. Each client will likely have different expectations, but let each one know what your standard response time is. For example, tell each client that you endeavor to return all phone calls and emails within 24 hours, and ask if they find that acceptable. Similarly, at the outset of the engagement with any client, have a discussion of how frequently they want to be updated (typically, one to two times per month). Once you have established the timeline, then you will use your inbox and calendar to stick to your plan. Below are some suggestions on how to master each of these areas: phone calls and voicemails, emails, and reports.

Phone Calls and Voicemails

This is a basic system to ensure you are returning phone calls. First, prepare an email to yourself concurrently with checking your voicemail. Include in the email a subject line of “#voicemail” and include in the email’s body the caller’s name, phone number, and a brief description of the message, and then send it to yourself. Do this for each voicemail received. (Newer phone systems can automatically send you an email when you receive a new voicemail.) Then you will have a record of each voicemail you need to return. The next step is to set a time at which you will review your email and return each phone call. After you return each phone call, archive the email. In other words, your inbox acts as a checklist for returning phone calls promptly. A search for “#voicemail” in your inbox will let you know if there are any outstanding calls you need to return.

There will be times when you are unable to return certain phone calls within 24 hours. In these circumstances, simply email the caller a message that lets them know you received the voicemail and will call back at a date/time certain. To remind yourself to follow-up with the client, create a calendar appointment and save a copy of the email as an attachment to the calendar appointment. While this is very basic, it is a simple way to ensure you are returning client’s phone calls timely.


An easy strategy for returning emails is again to think of your inbox as a checklist to respond to client correspondence. Set aside a time each day, or twice a day depending on your level of email traffic, to respond to client emails. Archive each email once you have responded.

Some emails obviously take longer to respond to than others and it may not always be convenient to respond at the time, or perhaps you need time to track down additional information. A simple rule to follow with prioritizing email responses is to use the "six-minute rule" (or for most attorneys a 0.1 billable event). If you estimate the response will take longer than six minutes to prepare, then simply respond to your client that you have received the email and will review it and get back to them at a later date certain. Again, set a calendar appointment as a reminder to set aside time to respond to the email. In addition, save a copy of the email to which you are responding as an attachment in the calendar appointment. Then archive the email from the inbox; this will reduce the clutter in your inbox and allow you to easily find the message to which you are responding.


As soon as you and the client have established the reporting frequency, set a recurring calendar appointment as a reminder to send the update. A simple format for the update will include the last step you accomplished and the next proposed step(s) you expect to handle prior to the next update. Create a digital folder on your hard drive or server to store copies of new correspondence, pleadings, motions, discovery, and so on that you receive between updates, which you can attach to your update to the client. If nothing has happened since the last report, let the client know that you have nothing new to report.

Start with these easy steps to develop your skills responding and reporting to your clients, and you might be surprised at how your swift responses and effective communication will impress your clients.

Keywords: litigation, trial practice, tips for young lawyers, law students, lawyer-client relationship

Copyright © 2015, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).