One of the first thoughts on this topic may be “the clients don’t know what’s best for them -we do!”
You may be one of the rare 1% who this applies to. For the rest of us, we need to ensure our clients receive appropriate reports in order for us to take instructions.
- Know your client – if you don’t then take steps to know them!! Once you have established what they want to achieve from their claim you can frame your reports towards this. Their eyes will be searching for the words that let them know: (i) where they are now; (ii) whether their end-goal is achievable; (iii) the steps they need to take to either reach meet their objective or accept it is not possible; and (iv) how much it is all going to cost and the approximate timescales involved.
- Use limited “legalese”. If you have a talented support staff member then ask them to apply their soft skills to the report. They may ask you the question to reword the report that a client may be too afraid to ask for fear of looking stupid.
- Explain the other side’s position in neutral terms. Just because the client is paying your bill, you are not obliged to take their side over everything.
- Remain consistent. Do not over-promise anything you cannot deliver. This is a frequent problem for solicitors who are constant “pleasers” but always end up letting their client down. Tough love is never a weakness if your client needs to be told some realities. Managing expectations is key.
- Alert your client ASAP if they are likely to be liable, particularly in reference to the potential damages and costs exposure, and identify a reserve that covers EVERYTHING. The breakdown of your final amount needs to show the science behind your calculations.
- Always mention funding and costs. This requires a separate section in your report. Do not dump them with a large bill at the end of the claim. You’re not a mechanic or a vet!!!
- Make recommendations and explain the reasons for this. Your client does not want to pay someone who sits on the fence. Treat the money as if it is your own. The client can normally work out what their options are, but they need to know what is most likely to succeed in Court, and whether it is worth it.
- Paraphrase wording where appropriate, but avoid the temptation to simply cut-and-paste Counsel’s opinion into a report and charge lots of money for this duplication.
- Enclose copies of documents such as Directions, applications, statements of case, etc. It is surprising how many people will still provide an overview of a document as opposed to enclosing the same. It may surprise you what your client may pick up due to their intimate knowledge of their claim.
- End the report with an offer to discuss the report in more detail and invite any questions. Go a step further and record any dates of your unavailability and provide an alternative contact in the event they need to make urgent contact with your office.
The above seems like common sense, does it not?
Probably. You would be surprised how frequently it is not followed.
Get your templates in order. Frequently the preliminary report has a standardised format, such as the following headings:
- fact pattern or facts & evidence
- liability or legal position
- recommendations or strategy/tactics
It is normally the interim update reports that lack a formal structure. It is worth updating your standardised documents to ensure there is consideration to all the relevant points to be addressed throughout the life of a claim. If your firm is wealthy enough to have Knowledge Management types of PSL’s then I would push this non-fee earning work in their direction.
What do you gain from client reporting?
When it is done correctly it can act as your roadmap to drive a claim forwards. It can provide you with direction to identify the key issues relevant to a claim. Remember to keep focus – it’s always easy to go off-piste during a claim that covers many years!
Over and out.