Setting Realistic Expectations

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Why won’t you guarantee results?

Why do so many people complain about attorneys? Is it possible that, in an attempt to convince a client that you are an excellent attorney that you over promised? Anyone working in the legal system knows that unpredictability is not the exception, it is the rule. Yet, clients hate uncertainty and try their best to get you to commit to an outcome. If you don’t bluster and assert that you can solve their problem and promise to get the outcome they desire, you fear that they will walk.

The truth is that clients are far more receptive to honest uncertainty than you might believe. And, in the end, they are more likely to feel satisfied with your services when the outcome is not the optimum result, but one that might have been anticipated. This is a lesson many attorneys don’t fully appreciate until they get burned a few times.

When my students first meet clients,  they feel compelled to give immediate answers about legal questions when clients ask a question. When they are told they can tell the client, “that is a good question, I will research it and find the answer for you”, they seem almost shocked that they can respond that way. All through law school they were expected to know the answer and respond authoritatively or they got chastised before their peers.

This carries over into practice for practical reasons (they want to get the client to sign the retainer), or the novice feels compelled to answer every question a client poses for fear they will look stupid. I believe that the genesis of so many problems that attorneys experience is grounded in the resistance to tell the client that they don’t know the outcome and certainly cannot guarantee it. They fear their predictions may not be the one that the client seeks. If youi set realistic expectations and it is more likely that the client will feel your services were competent and the fee was justified.

If your client doesn’t feel that your honest assessment doesn’t meet with their approval,  and if they go elsewhere for legal services, then consider yourself lucky as they are more likely to be the ones who would have grieved you or refused to pay their bill.

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