9 Tips for Improving Lawyer-Client Communication

Updated January 24, 2024
12 min read
9 Tips for Improving Lawyer-Client Communication

Introduction

Lawyer-client communication is the invisible glue that holds a law practice together. While lawyering skills are essential, knowledge of the law can only take an attorney so far without the ability to engage and communicate with clients effectively. Integrate these practical insights and tips to improve your client-law firm communications strategy.

Why Client Communication Is the Most Important Part of Your Practice

Effective communication is vital in the legal industry because, according to the American Bar Association, poor communication is the primary cause of malpractice claims. 

"Everyone gets busy, but if we underestimate how vital communication is with clients, we undervalue its importance in creating and sustaining long-term relationships."

Alidad Vakili, Corporate Attorney at Foley & Lardner, LLP

The 2019 Clio Legal Trends Report indicates that 79 percent of clients expect firms to respond to messages and emails within 24 hours. An overwhelming 64 percent of respondents said that they contacted a law firm that never replied. However, 89 percent of legal professionals surveyed indicated that they respond to phone and email queries within 24 hours. 

"One of the top complaints of the public at large is that lawyers don't return calls and emails, leaving clients in the dark."

Zakiya J. Norton, Partner & Co-Founder at Norton Basu LLF

These findings show a prevailing disconnect between a law firm and client communication. Given its critical role in building strong client relationships and driving business growth, law firms that fail to maximize their communication also fail to maximize their potential for success. Consider the following two main reasons why client communication is vital to a law practice. 

Enhancing case outcomes

Specializing in a specific area of law is standard among attorneys. However, keeping up to date with industry insights from clients helps refine legal strategies. Furthermore, meaningful communication with clients allows lawyers to better understand their concerns, preferred outcomes, and expectations.

Miscommunication often leads to errors, misaligned expectations, and misunderstandings, affecting case outcomes and customer satisfaction. Only through effective attorney client communication can you ensure that you and your client have a mutual understanding and aligned objectives. 

"When clients come to us, they are almost always overwhelmed with fear. This might be fear of the unknown, fear of the process, or fear of the future. It is imperative for the lawyer to have frequent and clear communication from the start and throughout the entire process so the client will feel in control, more empowered, and knowledgeable."

Robin M. Mermans, Divorce Mediation & Collaborative Family Law

Boosting reputation for driving growth

When a lawyer's communication approach is customer-centric, clients will be happier. Such clients often recommend the firm to family and friends and leave positive reviews on online legal platforms like Lawrina Match

"Communication can make or break a legal matter. Communication between a lawyer and a client lays an important foundation for trust, understanding, and mutual respect, all of which are essential in any attorney-client relationship."

Richard Sullivan, Founding Partner at Sullivan Law & Associates

In the 2019 Clio Legal Trends Report, 59 percent of clients seeking legal help sought a referral from family and friends, and 57 percent sought an attorney using an online search engine and looking at reviews before settling on one to call. Referrals significantly drive down an attorney's client acquisition costs. The average client cost per acquisition (CPA) for estate and trust attorneys is between $500 to $2000. The CPA might be lower for law firms in other markets, such as personal injury, family, and criminal defense law.

Furthermore, the cost may also be higher depending on a firm's marketing strategies. For example, the acquisition expenses may differ based on how much a firm leverages search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, content and social media marketing, print advertising, and other marketing strategies. 

"By fostering positive experiences through effective lawyer communication, law firms can boost client satisfaction, get more referrals, and lower their cost per acquisition (CPA) of new clients."

Inna Ptitsyna, Product Communications Manager at Lawrina

Find 5 effective lawyer-client communication strategies from a communication professional and 4 insights from experienced lawyers below. 

5 Tips From a Communication Pro

Effective legal communication is crucial for cultivating robust client relationships, fostering trust, and attaining successful outcomes in legal cases. That's what I preach on Lawrina. The following five communication tips have been invaluable in legal practice. These tips will help you improve your communication strategy and forge stronger client connections.

1. Use plain language for client-centric communication

Legal issues provoke a lot of stress for clients. So, a lawyer's communication approach should prioritize clients, their needs, and preferences to make the whole process as smooth as possible. The goal should be to help the client navigate the uncertainty of their legal problem. Lawyers can achieve this by using plain language to explain complex legal concepts and providing regular updates throughout the legal process. 

"Legal issues often create a lot of stress and anxiety. Therefore, providing a client with regular updates not only helps to keep the client informed but may also help calm the client's nerves throughout the process. It also helps to build trust from the beginning and maintain it until the end."

Lewis Landerholm, Founder of Pacific Cascade Legal

Additionally, legal design principles can further enhance the accessibility and understanding of legal information for clients. By adopting a communication strategy that prioritizes plain language and legal design, lawyers can build stronger client relationships by effectively communicating legal concepts. 

2. Set clear expectations and be effective in case management

Ensure your client comprehends the issues pertinent to their case, including its timelines and potential outcomes. Establishing and communicating realistic expectations at the outset is a crucial element of effective case management and helps clients manage emotions and reduce stress. 

"Our mission at Road To Resolution is to respond within 48 hours of all client communication, even if it's just to say, 'We received your message and will be back in touch.'"

Robin M. Mermans, Divorce Mediation & Collaborative Family Law

3. Demonstrate empathy to connect with your clients

Show that you care about the client's legal issues by listening actively and responding in a supportive and compassionate manner. Ask open-ended questions, recap clients' statements, and concerns, and use nonverbal cues like eye contact and body posture to convey understanding and support. 

"A lawyer talking to clients and giving advice is a common model of legal communication. However, sometimes, the best thing you can do is listen to what the client is saying so you can fully appreciate the facts, the client's concerns, and other issues that may be important to understand."

Alidad Vakili, Corporate Attorney at Foley & Lardner, LLP

Through empathetic communication lawyers make their client feel heard, validated, and understood, which can help build trust and foster stronger relationships. Additionally, practicing empathy can help lawyers better understand their client's needs and concerns, enabling them to provide more effective and tailored legal services.

4. Embrace transparency and accountability for trust and credibility

Lawyers should be transparent to build strong and long relationships with their clients. Even though the level of expertise is essential, layers should be humane and straightforward with their clients. So clear and concise communication about the whole legal process, fees, and potential outcomes is a must-have.

To be transparent and accountable in clients' eyes, lawyers should regularly update on any case progress or developments. Additionally, they should answer clients' questions and address any concerns. Usually, clients don't have years of law school behind their backs, so lawyers must explain all the points as humanly as possible. 

Lawyers should also be accountable for their actions and decisions throughout the legal process. Accountability involves taking responsibility for mistakes and ensuring that clients know all available legal options.

5. Be respectful to get client satisfaction

It's challenging to learn respect if you use vague and complicated language in your day-to-day communication with a client. Build a positive and collaborative relationship with your clients, and show your respect to them, and it will eventually lead to better outcomes and greater client satisfaction.

As you listen to your client's concerns, treat them with dignity and avoid judgment or criticism. Additionally, be mindful of cultural differences and tailor your communication style to avoid misunderstandings or insults.

4 Insights from Experienced Lawyers

We reached out to seasoned legal professionals with extensive experience in various areas of law to gain valuable insights into effective law firm-client communication. Zakiya J. Norton, Somita Basu, Irene Leonard, Robin M. Mermans, Richard Sullivan, Lewis Landerholm, and Alidad Vakili shared their perspectives on the significance of communication in establishing trust, enhancing client satisfaction, and achieving favorable outcomes. 

1. Master communication skills for effective client relationships

Every lawyer who wants a successful practice should develop communication skills for lawyers in the courtroom and for engaging with clients. 

"Constantly develop your skills by practicing. You need to communicate well with your clients, staff, partners, associates, other lawyers, and vendors. Improving your communication skills will let you express yourself with more confidence; more confidence will help you attract more clients and influence your peers and referral sources."

Irene Leonard, Business Coach for Professionals, JD & MCC

Furthermore, utilize diverse communication approaches beyond verbal presentations, such as providing email summaries after every meeting and incorporating visual aids and multimedia tools to help clients understand complex legal issues. In this regard, it may help to study legal design principles, including the use of visual aids and other elements, or to hire an experienced designer who can help you create effective documents. 

"Follow up every verbal conversation with a written summary. It can be tempting to assume that everyone has the same understanding after a conversation or negotiation, but this isn't always the case.

Documenting things in writing can ensure all sides are clear on what was agreed upon, reducing misunderstandings. Ensure each meeting ends by summarizing its outcomes in writing so nothing slips through the cracks.

A written record is a valuable resource should there be any confusion or discrepancies regarding details later in the process. With the ability to quickly reference past communications lawyers can save time for everyone involved and help prevent potential conflicts due to lack of clarity."

Richard Sullivan, Founding Partner at Sullivan Law & Associates

2. Leverage technology to enhance the client experience

Your efficacy will only be as good as the tools you leverage. Organizational tools like to-do lists and calendars will help you manage tasks, information, and resources effectively. Productivity applications like Google Docs and email enable you to collaborate effectively and streamline your process. Client management software can help your firm organize client information, case details, and communication history. 

"Embrace technology. Utilize client management software to ensure that matters are tracked, and tasks get completed on time. Ditch post-it notes and emails, which can get lost or disorganized. Take advantage of high-tech methods for gathering information, such as secure portal upload capability and online questionnaires."

Somita Basu, Partner & Co-Founder at Norton Basu LLP

Having customer relationship management (CRM) platforms or client portals can be extremely helpful for managing communication. Such tools allow law firms to track and organize client interactions from emails, phone calls, and other messages in a centralized platform.

With these tools, your firm can automate responses, letting clients know you've received their message and when they can expect to hear back from the attorney. By incorporating law firm text message client communication, attorneys can provide clients with immediate access to critical information, reducing a client's anxiety and boosting client satisfaction. 

"Maintaining consistent and responsive communication goes a long way toward winning invaluable rave client reviews."

Zakiya J. Norton Partner & Co-Founder at Norton Basu LLP

3. Have a law firm-client communication policy

A law firm's client communication policy is crucial for tailoring a communication style to each client's needs and preferences. These policies should have a clear framework for consistent and effective communication within the legal practice, ensuring that clients receive personalized attention.

"Effective and clear communication is vital to a successful attorney-client relationship. When clients feel respected and understood, they will be more likely to hire the same lawyer in the future and highly recommend them to family and friends."

Lewis Landerholm, Founder of Pacific Cascade Legal

The policy should address response times, confidentiality, modes of communication, and cultural sensitivity, equipping your team to handle diverse clientele while maintaining professionalism and upholding the highest ethical standards.

4. Adjust approaches to every client

Сlients differ in their expectations for case updates. Some may want to stay closely informed with regular updates, while others might feel satisfied with occasional summaries of case progress. Establish open lines of communication, actively listen to client's concerns, and adjust your approach based on their feedback to cater to their unique needs.

"Meet your clients where they are. Some clients want to know every detail every step of the way, while others get overwhelmed with too much information or too much information all at once. Some prefer phone calls to hear your voice, and others prefer emails. The detail and type of communication depends on what works best for that particular client."

Robin M. Mermans, Divorce Mediation & Collaborative Family Law

By adapting your law firm-client communication style to align with your client's preferences, you create stronger relationships and foster trust and confidence in your ability to represent their interests. A customized approach to communication ultimately enhances client satisfaction and contributes to the overall success of your legal practice.

Conclusion

Lawyers can nurture clients' positive experiences, relationships, and satisfaction and increase business success by employing lawyer communication strategies like setting clear expectations, using plain language, and being accountable.

While you may have many pressing issues, remember that your clients are possibly anxious about their cases. Knowing that you have received their email or phone call and intend to get back to them is a significant part of showing empathy and respect. 

Article by
Inna Lohvin
Lawrina

Inna Lohvin (Ptitsyna) was a Product Communications Manager for Lawrina. Inna has a law degree and great expertise in legal innovations. Along with her work for Lawrina, Inna is a part of the international community of legal hackers, where she gives presentations about the importance of PR and marketing for lawyers.

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