What competent attorney doesn’t have a goal of “improving your practice and keeping happy clients?” This is an ongoing activity that can always benefit from reminders. With those thoughts in mind, I am happy to have the input of a veteran member of ICLEF’s faculty for the 12th Annual Family Law Institute in this week’s Law Tips. J. David Roellgen is a partner with Kolb Roellgen & Kirchoff LLP, Vincennes, Indiana, who has practiced Family Law for over 33 years. He offers a list of pointers that might bear reviewing by all practitioners, regardless of your practice area.
1. Make sure that you have a full and frank discussion with your client so that expectations can be set and appropriately managed from the beginning. There is nothing less fun than finding yourself arguing with a client about why the law is a certain way or why that is not fair in their particular case.
2. Of course, always return phone calls promptly, hopefully in the same day if at all possible. Good communication is key to lawyer and client happiness.
3. The client is in control of the case and if they are prepared to settle with or without your advice, then the case needs to be settled. If your client is rejecting a reasonable offer and wants to go to trial, it is a good idea to have them sign a document acknowledging that they are acting against your advice and that the results at trial may vary.
4. Self evaluation is difficult but client satisfaction surveys may be a way for them to reflect after some distance from the actual tumult of litigation and for you to reflect on ways to improve your practice.
5. Clients should sign retainer agreements that permit withdrawal within the rules of ethics, in the event you are not paid for services.
6. Use the evergreen approach for retainer fees which means that it periodically needs to be replenished.
7. Determining how you will be paid is important at the initial meeting. This could involve loans, mortgages, notes, family or friends who may guarantee payment.
8. If you give clients homework, make sure they actually do it. If they are not filling out initial client intake forms, they are probably not going to do any homework that you assign them. In our firm, we call clients who’ve been unhappy and sought other counsel as “Second Hand Rose.” If they were unhappy with the first series of representatives, it is only a matter of time before they become unhappy with you.
9. Pay attention to the support staff as they are in the trenches and might be able to point out strength and weaknesses that you have become blind to.
10. Know your limitations. If it is an area of law you want to learn, you might want to do that in an academic setting and not at some client’s expense.
11. If the client doesn’t make you feel right about a position, demand, or tactic, trust your gut.
12. After the attorney client relationship has been established, have the client set out goals in the case that will help you understand what is important to the client and also provide early warnings of client expectations or goals that are unreasonable, unlawful or unethical. Once the goals are completed you can meet with the client and go through those on a line by line basis and focus on attainable ones or one that may need to be modified due to unrealistic expectations or the state of the law.
13. It will likely be necessary to revisit these goals as the case progresses and client dictates set in.
Dave Roellgen’s list does include #14, as well. That would be a thorough “End of Case Questionnaire” that space doesn’t allow us to include here. Among other topics, the questionnaire provides the client with the opportunity to give feedback on whether their expectations of the firm were met, any improvements they might recommend and future legal needs.
I appreciate Dave sharing his “happy clients” guidelines. ICLEF’s 12th Annual Family Law Institute provides additional valuable advice from Dave Roellgen and 22 of his fellow faculty. You may choose to attend this CLE by Video Replay in the coming weeks, or schedule your own session On Demand by Clicking Here. Or, if you prefer to add the seminar manual to your library, Click Here to download.
About our Law Tips faculty participant:
J. David Roellgen is a partner with Kolb Roellgen & Kirchoff LLP, Vincennes, Indiana. Having enjoyed the practice of law for over 33 years, Dave was educated at Vincennes University, Indiana State University and Indiana University-Indianapolis Law School, JD, cum laude, 1979. He is a past president of the Knox County Bar Association, a member of the Indiana State; Illinois and American Bar Associations; Fellow, Indiana Bar Foundation; Court of Military Appeals; Retired LTC, Indiana Army National Guard, last serving as the Staff Judge Advocate for the 38th INF. DIV. (MECH), and is City Attorney, City of Vincennes, 1992-1995; 2001- 2007; and 2012-present.
About our Law Tips blogger:
Nancy Hurley has long-standing connections with Indiana lawyers. She was formerly a member of the ISBA and IBF staffs for over 30 years. Nancy’s latest lifestyle venture is with ICLEF. We are utilizing her exceptional writing and interviewing skills while exploring how her Indiana-lawyer background fits with ICLEF’s needs. When she isn’t ferreting out new topics for Law Tips, her work can be found in our Speaker Spotlight blogs, postings on the ICLEF Facebook and Twitter pages, and other places her legal experience lends itself.
Thank you for reading Law Tips. You may subscribe to this weekly blog through the RSS link at the top of this page. Also, you are encouraged to comment below or email Nancy. She welcomes your input as she continues to sift through the treasure trove of knowledge of our CLE faculty to share with you.