How often do you find that your progress on a case has stalled or that you're in danger of missing a deadline because your client won't respond? Every attorney has experienced the frustration of waiting on clients to collect documents, approve a draft, or track down the information you need to move a matter forward.
While some of this is a client issue, often times this problem can be traced directly back to an attorney communication issue--one that can be prevented.
Consider building some of the following into your calendar and your communications with clients:
Set expectations early. Make sure you tell your clients early and often that part of what you'll need from them in order to make the case or project go smoothly is their responsiveness to your requests. Make this part of the messaging that’s built into your early communications so that they know it’s coming and understand the importance.
Explain what's in it for them. Avoid sending emails that just say: “Dear Client, I’m checking in to see if you collected those documents we asked for.” Instead, explain What’s In It For Them. If you need information that's holding up the process, explain why the delay is prolonging the bad situation they’re in or the relief they hired you to get for them. In other words, tie the information to something that will resonate with your client. Explain why the delay is preventing you from moving forward with the divorce, estate plan, lawsuit, or insurance recovery that's keeping them up at night. Explain that the faster they give you the information, the sooner you can get the resolution they want.
Explain What’s In It For Them, and why the delay is preventing you from moving forward with the divorce, estate plan, lawsuit, or insurance recovery that's keeping them up at night.
Ask for the information in advance . Even if you know you won’t need information until further down the road, why not ask for it well in advance of a deadline? This is one of the reasons why we suggest engaging in intentional work mapping--taking the time up front to create a roadmap for your work before you start. It allows you to plan with intention so you’re not stuck asking and waiting for documents at the last minute.
Give clear directions + create a resource. If you’re consistently having trouble getting a client to give you the documents you need, part of the problem may be that you’re making it too difficult for them or not being clear in your request. Consider creating a short, 1-2 page resource they can use. For example, if you need a client to search for and collect documents, give them a sheet that clearly outlines what your'e looking for, gives them examples, suggests places to look, and includes answers to frequently asked questions.
Not only will these practices be helpful in moving your case forward, they'll help set expectations and improve your client's experience.