Perhaps a bit unconventionally, I would like to start by defining some terms:
- Objective: An intended result that is specific and measurable.
- Goal: A broad statement identifying a mission.
- Tactic: Any mode of procedure for gaining advantage or success.
- Strategy: A plan, method or series of maneuvers for obtaining a specific result.
To use a comparison from my days as a high school teacher, tactics are to objectives as strategies are to goals.
You and your client are in different businesses (unless you do legal malpractice work) and have different business goals. But your client has been sued and is now at your doorstep. Now you have some common interests. You need to make sure your objectives are aligned with those of your client so you can employ tactics likely to help you achieve those goals and objectives.
Formulate and Be Mindful of Your Budget
Your client wants to win their case, but they don’t want to go broke doing so. After you’ve been assigned a case and taken the initial steps to evaluate it, provide your client with a proposed budget. This allows your client to plan and prepare for the expenses they’re going to incur. It helps build trust between you and your client because the budget will (or should) have a detailed, itemized list of the costs, which will help strengthen the lines of communication.
You should be comfortable explaining any of the expenses you’ve proposed, and how they will help achieve your goals and objectives for the case. Then, even more importantly, you have to operate within the constraints of the budget. (Read my post here on tracking performance metrics to improve client relations).
And this reminds of an episode of “Seinfeld”:
Jerry: I don’t understand. Do you have my reservation?
Rental Car Agent: We have your reservation, we just ran out of cars.
Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have the reservation.
Rental Car Agent: I think I know why we have reservations.
Jerry: I don’t think you do. You see, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation: the holding. Anybody can just take them.
Anybody can create a budget; the important part is keeping it. But let’s be realistic, sometimes things happen in litigation that blow budgets out of the water. When that happens — or you anticipate that’s going to happen — you should immediately communicate that to your client. Prepare your client up-front for the additional expected expenses.
Understand Your Client’s Greater Goal
Sure, there are lawyers who, for the sake of winning, are willing to set the world on fire and watch it burn. But this approach can be taxing mentally and emotionally. The scorched-earth mentality may not fit within your greater goals. Your client may want to salvage the relationship with the opponent after resolving the litigation. Burning bridges can be expensive and can take a heavy toll on a reputation. Or maybe the client just likes to play well with others.
I’m not suggesting that a client should control or meddle in the tactics their attorney uses to achieve objectives in the case. However, I do believe the client and attorney should discuss strategies employed to achieve larger goals, including goals that may extend beyond the borders of the litigation.
Communication Is the Key
I think you can probably locate the common thread here: It’s communication. Unless you have honest conversations with your clients, you won’t know what their goals are. You will be unable to implement strategies and specific tactics that are geared toward satisfying your client’s needs and desires.
A client who doesn’t believe he’s being heard is an unhappy client, even if the end result is the desired result. And an unhappy client doesn’t return to do business with you again in the future, doesn’t give you helpful feedback, and doesn’t recommend you to his friends and associates.
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