Why and How to Rectify Broken Client Relationships

At some point, every lawyer will have a disgruntled client.  Maybe their expectations could never be met.  Maybe they simply didn’t understand the process or what could reasonably be anticipated.  Maybe the lawyer failed to communicate or even to perform.  Whatever the reason, eventually, a client is going to be upset.

The question becomes, what is the lawyer to do about it?

The answer is simple.  Fix it.

Why Fix It?

Lawyers are humans.  We can’t help but get defensive, angry, and want to argue back to an upset client.  After all, if their expectations were never reasonable, how is it the lawyer’s fault that they weren’t met?

The “why” is quite simple.  The cost of not fixing it is potentially huge, and the relative cost of fixing it will always be small in comparison.

The cost may be your pride.  You may have to simply suck it up and apologize when you don’t think you should have to.

The cost may be financial.  You may need to refund earned fees that you know you should never have to return.  But it might be the cost of making it right.

The potential problems a disgruntled client can cause can be huge.  They can complain to the State Bar, potentially costing you tens of thousands of dollars in defense costs.  They may sue you for malpractice, also costing money (even if they lose).  The diversion of resources and stress involved in defending yourself are tremendous.

How?

Find out what your client needs from you.  It might not be what you think.  They may want their money back, or an apology.  Maybe they want something intangible that you can provide.  Maybe an additional service would make it right, or pro bono representation of a friend.  You won’t know until you ask.

Then do what it takes to make it right.  This isn’t a settlement agreement type of deal.  This is human relationships — treat your client as a human who needs something from you, and smooth things over so that the relationship can end in peace.

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