I recently had a conversation about bad clients with another practitioner and it got me thinking about good clients and bad ones. Being a good client is somewhat of an art, akin to being a good manager or coach.
Basic common sense will get you a long way sometimes, but many people seem to forget that.
For a time, I worked as a design engineer building automation projects. My job was to create new machines, get them built and tested and deliver them to a customer. In this job, I knew there were two groups of people who were absolutely key to my success: the buyers and the tool makers. I did everything I could think of to make their life easier.
The buyers always seemed to be overworked and very busy, but were my lifeline to the parts I needed. Another engineer always seemed to fight with the buyers, and the buyers hated him and never wanted to work on his projects. I, on the other hand, made sure I gave them exactly the right information for them to do their job. I would stop by and chat with them from time to time so I got to know them well.
I also did this in the model shop. I got to know the toolmakers real well and would often hang out and chat about any topic they liked, from go-kart racing to polka music.
I made sure that I never asked for something to be expedited and then forget to pick up the parts. Also, I made sure that my drawings or specifications were as complete as they needed to be. In fact, I would spend a good bit of time working with the buyers or the toolmakers to make sure that the information was as convenient and useful as possible for them. I did this consciously and on an ongoing basis. I quickly learned which buyers were more helpful than others, and which toolmakers had a better understanding of what I was trying to build. I tried to avoid those who were not as helpful.
After a while, the buyers and the toolmakers would start to help me much more than other engineers. For engineers that they didn’t like, they might notice an error in a drawing, but build the part exactly to print. For me, they would pick up the phone and verify something and often have a suggestion. When I needed something expedited by the buyers, they knew I was not lying and they bent over backwards to help.
The same lessons can be applied to any service provider, be it a doctor, lawyer, waiter, mechanic, website designer, barber, etc. When I act as a client, I want the service provider to be enthusiastic about working with me. How do I do that? I make sure that I don’t waste their time, I have all the information they need in a format they can use, and I pay on time or early. Also, I absolutely do not want to be the lowest paying client, I want to be the highest paying.
I want the service provider to give me the absolute best service, not just average. The difference between best service and average service may be the suggestion by an accountant to try a different tax strategy or keeping the coffee cup full at the end of a long dinner.
How does this translate in the legal service situation? A good client can benefit greatly by establishing a good relationship with the provider, and getting to know how the provider uses the information the client supplies. The more the client knows about the lawyer’s processes, the better the client will be served. Further, the client needs to be conscious of the relationship and how the client is being treated. If the service is not of the caliber the client expects, the client should make adjustments, including the option of looking for a new service provider if the service is not what is expected.