Poor Client Management and High Expectations

There has been a common element in each of the most difficult cases I’ve litigated–poor client management. What this means in a broad sense is a lawyer who fails to properly manage his client’s expectations. This occurs for any number of reasons. For example, the lawyer may not have a good grasp of the case or of the applicable law and, for that reason, may have a severely inflated sense of the value of his client’s claims.

The client is not always without fault, either. I’ve seen particularly manipulative or just plain bossy clients push their lawyer to do one thing or another and simply refuse to relent until they get their way. I usually see this exhibited during depositions. My opposing counsel brings his client to the deposition of my witness. Throughout the deposition, the client scribbles notes frantically, ripping pages out of a notebook and thrusting them across the table to his lawyer.

Inevitably, the lawyer relents and asks the question proposed by his client. And, inevitably, it’s a flop. The question is out of context, irrelevant, and often poorly stated. It makes the lawyer look foolish and throws him off course.

A good lawyer knows better than to let this happen in the first place. When it is appropriate to bring a client to a deposition or court hearing, the good lawyer explains in advance what his role is and what the client’s role is. If the client gets caught up in the moment and temporarily forgets those instructions, the lawyer simply takes a break at the next opportunity and tells the client to please keep her notes until the next break, when he will be glad to review them.

So what does client management have to do with today’s workplace? In short, the transferrable lesson relates to managing expectations. Whether you are dealing with your direct supervisor, your assistant, or your own clients or customers, expectations are essential.

We are all responsible for setting our own rules and then abiding by them consistently. If you give your cell phone number to clients and encourage them to call you “anytime,” don’t be short with them when they do. Similarly, if you allow employees to “tease” a coworker because of his accent, don’t be surprised when the “teasing” spreads to gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

It is the responsibility of every manager to set the expectations for employee behavior. These expectations are set in part by example and in part by responding immediately and consistently to every failure to meet those expectations.

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