Serve Legal Clients Proficiently

This post on “How To Serve Different Types Of Legal Clients” is written by Ishita Mehta

Every person a lawyer meets is a potential Legal client. Being able to work with and understand the requirement of different kinds of legal clients is a vital and an important skill for lawyers. Every legal client is different and unique and the lawyers should be able to recognize the patterns in the client types.

This article will get you started in the right direction and will help you to fathom how you can serve different kinds of legal clients in the best possible way and consequently be more efficient and brand an amazing brand as a legal service provider.

Different Types Of Legal Clients

Understanding different types of legal clients is critical to growing one’s practice. A successful lawyer knows in its head how to deal with different kinds of legal clients but, those who want to grow exponentially need to have a ready strategy at hand so that they can delegate and scale the good work.

Young lawyers, and even the older ones, are always learning how to handle legal clients better. It is a lifelong practice.

You are most welcome to read our compilation on how to understand different kinds of legal clients and how to deal with them, and then add your two cents and send across the same to us in comments.

The Broad Distinction Based On Legal Sophistication

There is one broad distinction of legal clients that every lawyer intuitively understands, i.e.

  • The sophisticated clients.
  • The unsophisticated clients.

While a large number of individual legal clients who knock at the doors of the lawyers are unsophisticated clients, there are many sophisticated individual clients. There are unsophisticated clients among-st the business clients as well.

How To Serve An Unsophisticated Legal Client?

There is no reason to treat unsophisticated clients any worse than your sophisticated clients though because, how much a client pays to the lawyer or how much work they bring has no correlation with how sophisticated they are.

Serving the unsophisticated client can often be a very satisfying experience,in every way, for a lawyer when it delivers justice to the one who deserves.

However, they need different kind of attention and handling by the lawyer. A large part of successfully administering a matter brought on table by an unsophisticated client requires the lawyer to sensitize the client about his own legal position.

To give an example, a landlord who owns many residential and commercial properties and has been dealing with tenants for many years, may or may not be very sophisticated in his approach to deal with the legal issues like- vacating non-paying tenants, keeping of records or documentation or hiring of lawyers.

Sophisticated Client v/s Unsophisticated Client

Sophisticated client usually comes with a lot of prior knowledge about legal issues in their domain. They are better prepared, may know the laws and regulations better than the lawyers at times and will hire the best lawyers over other lawyers only for very specific reasons like- lawyer’s billing rate, specialized expertise or efficiency of service.

An unsophisticated client is not as prepared, has not dealt with lawyers much in the past and might not know what to expect when dealing with a lawyer.

The unsophisticated client may not even know that whatever he communicates to a lawyer is  already protected by lawyer-client privilege while, the sophisticated client may come armed with a standard non-disclosure or service level agreement.

How To Spot A Sophisticated Legal Client

Sophisticated legal clients are the ones who have sufficient experience with the legal system and have knowledge about the domain to measure the legal risk involved in a particular case. They are very clear about what they want from their lawyer.

Lawyers can tell if the legal client is sophisticated if the client already has significant legal knowledge about the matter they have brought or if they are delegating a small piece of a bigger work. Such legal clients will often get several independent legal advises or will have in-house legal departments.

As they already have significant knowledge about the legal issues it becomes quite easy for the lawyer to deal with that part as the client does not require sensitization. They also usually know the value of an effective lawyer and have a fair idea about the fees.

What A Sophisticated Legal Client Demands From Its Lawyer?

Sophisticated legal client can easily find legal skills that they want from most of the law firms and they are likely to have worked with several lawyers in the past. In India, finding specialized legal skills is often a challenge but, more frequently these clients need better service levels more than anything. They want high quality legal advice delivered to them as efficiently as possible.

The sophisticated legal clients want the lawyer to listen to them and take their perspective regarding the subject matter on board.

They want to minimize the exposure and given that, they have volumes of legal matters, usually take a pragmatic view of things.

They often value settlements over outright legal battles. For business clients, business interests like market reputation, returns on investments and opportunity costs play a big role in deciding whether to go for a legal action or which lawyer to opt for. So, understanding their business imperatives is critical.

How To Up-sell To Sophisticated Legal Clients?

Lawyers need to understand what success means to the legal client here.

  • Lawyers should take the time to make the legal client sit down and discuss what they actually want to gain from the legal actions they want to take.
  • They should understand not only the short term goals of the legal client but, also the long term plans.
  • A deep understanding of the client’s priorities often open up avenues for new actions that serve the purpose of the legal client better and naturally, the lawyer benefits from the same as well.

It is not necessary to spend a lot of time with a client to up-sell. A deep understanding of a client’s needs also comes with experience with a certain kind of legal clients.

For instance, if a client comes to you for incorporation of a company, it is almost certain that he will also probably need the trademarks registered. It only makes sense to explain to him why he should get a trademark also registered.

Similarly, if it is a startup, it may soon need an ESOP plan and you might want to educate the client about that a bit so that, when he really needs one, he would come back for the same.

Also, if you are in the business for long enough, you might know that at this stage such companies should have an elaborate co-founders agreement and you might be able to effectively pitch the same.

A sophisticated client will highly appreciate such advice as you are moving them forward in their objective and are giving holistic legal advice and effective guidance rather than just over the counter impersonal services that they can get anywhere anyway.

How To Spot An Unsophisticated Client And Win Them Over?

As compared to a sophisticated legal client, these legal clients can be spotted easily as they usually don’t have a background knowledge.

  • They will not understand industry jargon.
  • They will often be hesitant in sharing all the gory details of their case.
  • They will have unrealistic expectations and sometimes will even judge the lawyers based on what they have seen on TV and movies.
  • They will almost never know the risks or legal underpinnings of the matter, and may not even be aware of full impact of a certain case or legal situation on their own interests.
  • They are usually new to the legal system and sometimes even new to the business.

Unsophisticated legal clients can be won over by a warm approach-explaining how the system works and some counselling on their situation.

Unsophisticated legal clients don’t often understand the rules of engagement and have to be updated on the same.

If a lawyer can make them understand about the intricacies and legal aspects clearly, they tend to highly value the lawyer.

A good approach with such clients is to provide them a road-map, preferably in writing, for their matter as to how you propose to handle the matter, what to expect and what all different routes the foreseeable future can take.

  • Informing them of pursuing legal actions, any potential delays due to the very tardy legal system, uncertainties due to grey areas in law etc should be explained to them ahead of time if you do not want to incur their wrath later on.
  • Building a relationship based on trust is critical as far as unsophisticated legal clients are concerned. Since, they cannot optimally judge their legal position, they need to trust the lawyer implicitly.

They always put a huge premium on who they can trust. A recommendation from a near or dear one or anyone in their trusted circles go a long way in deciding which lawyer they will hire.

With such clients, your success in getting hired often depends on how you differentiate the service you provide from those offered by other lawyers.

Unsophisticated legal clients cannot make a proper distinction between lawyers who are fooling them and the lawyers who genuinely want to help them. They are mostly suspicious.

These clients almost always prefer fixed fee arrangements, which are predictable and transparent.

Problems Unsophisticated Legal Clients Face While Working With Lawyers

These clients are often not treated well by most lawyers. Lawyers in India often act like mini bureaucrats once the brief is already with them.

The Unsophisticated legal clients struggle even to know the next date or to find out what happened in the last hearing. When disgruntled clients approach services like ClikLawyer.com, they often say that they want to change their lawyer because their lawyer doesn’t give enough attention to their case, by which they usually mean that the lawyer does not communicate with them properly.

We have experienced that weekly updates does wonder for such clients, even if we drop a mail letting them know that nothing has progressed or that we are waiting to receive a certain document.

Also, such legal clients often get into legal action without knowing how long it will take or what to expect out of the case. This often costs them dearly later on.

Legal Clients Who Need Extra Attention

¤  First Timer Clients

First timer clients have not come to the lawyer before.

  • Most first timer clients are forced to seek the help of a lawyer. Maybe, they need to secure a bail or that someone has cheated them of a significant amount of money or maybe a valuable property is at stake. In any case, most of the time they have no idea as to what to expect either from the system or the lawyer. They are hoping to get some solution and they often need a supportive attitude from the lawyer.
  • They are usually burdened with a lot of myths and popular misconceptions about the legal profession and court and are likely to be cautious in dealing with lawyers.

This is why, gentle treatment usually goes a long way with first timer clients. Also, any referral or recommendation by someone they already know and trust is also likely to work powerfully. They also need to experience transparency from your side so that, they’re able to trust you.

Be Efficient With First Timer Clients

With first timer clients, if you don’t want to waste a lot of time, make sure-

  • You give them some literature about your firm or practice to read.

A brochure can be very effective when they have already approached you or are waiting to meet you outside your chamber.

  • Similarly, you should also make an effort towards understanding the business of the client especially, if you are trying to land a large corporate client with significant amount of legal work to give to you.
  • It is very important that the client finds you knowledgeable and effective as a lawyer in the domain of law for which he needs your help. If you are a new practitioner, it will help if you prepare in advance based on initial correspondence or call so you are well prepared to answer his questions and satisfy him that he is in good hands.

Lawyers don’t need to know every bit of law to be effective as a lawyer, they can always look up the law at the click of a finger.

However, clients don’t know this and they will judge you if they know a piece of law that you don’t know. They are almost always going to check so, don’t get yourself in that situation where they are telling you a piece of law and you have no idea about it, especially, if you are going to deal with highly educated startup entrepreneurs, business consultants or veteran businessmen. Your basic knowledge of business law must be solid.

Here is how a cyber lawyer expanded her practice by advising startups and e-commerce companies and how enhancing her knowledge helped her-

Must Read: Puneet Bhasin-Cyber Lawyer and Consultant

Do read it, I am sure you will find it inspiring.

  • The first time legal client always wants to be the priority. If he feels that you are a lawyer for who he is a priority, it goes a long way.
  • Always make sure to give appointments and start the meetings on time with first timer legal clients.
  • The most important thing to remember with these clients is everything is new to them. We can’t say this enough number of times but, with most first time legal clients trust is the key issue. If they can trust you, you have got their business.

Once you serve them well, such clients will also become your biggest proponents and supporters.

¤The “Frequent Flier” clients

These clients are the opposite of the first-time legal client.

  • They always need the service of a lawyer and are constantly going through the court system or must be running multiple transactions a year.
  • These clients already have lawyers that they have engaged earlier so, if they are coming to you, a key question to ask yourself is why are they not going back to the other lawyers. The reason could vary from pending bills- that prevent them from going back to being unsatisfied with a previous legal representation or searching for a specific legal expertise. If such clients are referred through another lawyer, that is a good sign.

However, if they come on their own it is important to do a bit of research. For example, I was once contacted by a casino operator who wanted me to represent him in a different state but, his conduct was suspicious and on asking around I discovered that he has hired many lawyers in the past and has not made the payments.

The big promises he made were usually made to hide the fact that he was not going to pay the legal fees. Had I not asked around, I might have done his work for free like many others have done before me in hope of landing a big retainer-ship client.

  • On the other hand, many frequent fliers are so frequent because they have myriad business interests to protect or that they operate in highly regulated and litigious industries. They need services of multiple lawyers and are often the biggest clients.
  • These clients will expect priority treatment, a line of credit and highest standard of services just like business class clients of airlines. You will have to treat them well and support them in expanding their commercial interests.

Many a grey haired lawyers, with big city law firms and above 50 lawyer headcount, have sweared that finding these clients and nurturing them through their growth phase have led to the fortune of their own firms.

Although, I have never spoken to the owners of IndusLaw, I have come to believe that tremendous growth of the firm was in no short measures connected to the fact that they have been the early lawyers of SnapDeal and saw it through its various funding rounds. There are many other such examples.

Keep in mind that in meetings, these clients will almost always test your nerves and confidence. The key is to keep a balance, Confidence in your knowledge and skills that you are not above ignorance and mistakes as a human being can go hand in hand.

Being confident with highly experienced and intimidating clients when you are new is difficult but, it must be done.

Confidence with clients is a skill, and like any skill, it must be practiced.

  • Con-artists

The next sort of client is the Con Artist. These customers look for legal advisers who can help them to complete their dishonest and some of the time illicit plans.

Frequently, these clients require attorneys to help them draft records or set up organizations. Obviously, these customers never stroll into a legal counselor’s office. The lawyer needs to look for warning signs. Some of the time it will be anything but difficult to tell that what the customer needs is dishonest and at other times you will not really know.

Everyone has a right to hire a lawyer and legal representation but, it is important to protect your credibility and reputation.

When you think you are dealing with the con-artists and criminals, whose real intentions are not disclosed to you, discuss with your partners or other lawyers and confront wherever required.

  • Legal Clients with mental health or emotional Issues

It is not unusual for clients to have melt downs or emotional outbursts in a lawyer’s office or over a call with a lawyer, as in many legal cases stakes are really high for the client at a personal level.

The point is that the earlier a lawyer can spot such clients and flag them as clients who need additional attention or precaution, the better prepared they will be to serve that legal client most effectively (and in some cases, withdraw from representation when necessary).

This’s all about How To Serve Different types of Legal Clients for now. Did you find this post useful? Let us know in the comments section.

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