Nothing But the Ruth
Late Clients Baffle Me
Here’s something I don’t understand: clients who are late for meetings. They set up the meeting based on their availability, and even confirm it the day before—yet sometimes I find myself sitting in a conference room waiting for them after the appointment was supposed to have started. Most of my clients do arrive on time, but this happens often enough that it annoys me.
What Happened to the Rule, “If You’re On Time, You’re Late”?
Has being 10 minutes early for your appointment stopped being the norm? If so, we need to change it back.
And I know it’s not just me—recently, for example, a lawyer friend posted on Twitter that her client was late for a 7:30 a.m. meeting. Unless there’s a 20-car pileup on the freeway, it’s hard to have a valid excuse for being late to a meeting first thing in the morning.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t think lawyers should be treated with more respect than doctors, hair stylists or anyone else you make an appointment to see. If you have an appointment, you need to be there on time unless there is an unforeseeable delay. And no, morning rush-hour traffic does not count as an unforeseeable delay. It happens every day. Plan accordingly!
I also don’t buy the excuse that it’s acceptable in certain cultures to be late. That may work in social settings, but not in the professional world. It annoys me when people are late and nonchalantly say things like “GST” (gay standard time), or that they’re always late, as if that justifies their tardiness. It just tells me you’re lazy and don’t respect my time.
(Note: Please don’t shoot the messenger. As a member of the LGBT community, I even understand, respect and have been guilty of GST in some social settings.)
The Clock Has Started …
My rule is you can’t bitch unless you’re willing to do something about it, so what’s the solution? I think lawyers should inform their clients that if they have a 9 a.m. appointment for an hour, the clock starts at 9 a.m.—whether they are there or not. If they want to pay for you to twiddle your thumbs or check your fantasy football score, that’s their choice. When the clock strikes 10 a.m., their appointment is over, however long they’ve been there. They can pay extra to have more of your time, or if you have other obligations, ask them to make another appointment to finish the conversation.
Clients who don’t care if they waste your time will keep doing it until they can’t afford it, their case is resolved or you fire them. Clients who want their money’s worth will learn really fast that they don’t like paying for you to check your Twitter feed. They’ll start showing up on time. Clients who are really smart will figure out that I’m usually in the conference room getting ready for them 10 minutes before their hour starts—and if they show up early, I’ll give them a 70-minute appointment for the price of an hour.
On the flip side, lawyers also need to be prepared and on time for client meetings. If you didn’t have clients, you wouldn’t have a job. So be sure to give your clients the same respect for their time as you want them to give you for yours.
Ruth Carter is a lawyer, writer and speaker. Her virtual practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Recently named an ABA Journal 2012 Legal Rebel, Ruth is a 2011 graduate of Arizona State University College of Law known for her daring antics and outgoing personality. She is co-founder of Improv Arizona, author of the new ebook The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to Get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed, and blogs weekly at UndeniableRuth.com.
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