Reconciling Priorities In The Attorney-Client Relationship

Reconciling Priorities In The Attorney-Client Relationship

Reconciling Priorities In The Attorney-Client Relationship

The California Desert Trial Academy supplements traditional law school curriculum with both hard and soft skills, as well as the values and historical perspective that equip students to be lawyers on the day that they graduate from the CDTA. We help students develop the interpersonal skills necessary to serve clients. This includes the ability to effectively communicate with clients to fully understand their needs, goals, and expectations.

When anyone hires an attorney, he or she has expectations about what the relationship will produce whether money damages, specific performance of a contract, criminal defense, or other remedy or service. Clients also have specific expectations of the attorney-client relationship, as do their attorneys.

In many cases, a client’s expectation may be obvious. Reconciling these priorities is the responsibility of an attorney. Many successful attorneys who regularly achieve results for their clients do so because they understand what their clients want.

Thus, perhaps the first questions any attorney should ask of a prospective client is:

“In addition to the appropriate remedy to your legal problem, what do you expect from this relationship?”

In many cases, clients will reinforce the obvious. In some cases, they may not answer this question in a clear and cogent manner. Attorneys should never assume what a client wants or expects. Even in the most obvious cases, clients want lawyers to perform certain actions and accomplish the achievement of specific client goals.

Regarding clients’ expectations related to the resolution of their problems, it is not unusual for clients to want what the law cannot provide, which requires their attorneys to explain the law, its application to their problem, and the unavailability of a remedy. If attorneys do not understand what clients want, attorneys may fail to recognize that clients cannot have what they truly want, and they are in a “can’t win” situation that will likely end with client unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

Unfortunately, most lawyers’ priorities for the delivery of legal services differ from those of clients. Research indicates that there is less than a 20 percent overlap between what lawyers and clients expect and want in the lawyer-client relationship. Surveys have shown the following distinction between the priorities of clients and lawyers:

Client’s Priorities Lawyer’s Priorities
1.     Concern 1.     Efficiency
2.     Honesty, Ethics 2.     Fair Fee
3.     Competence 3.     Competence
4.     Efficiency 4.     Concern


Thus, lawyers who strongly emphasize efficiency may fail to understand the perspectives of their clients more times than not. Interestingly, clients do not place fair fees higher on their list.

In sum, it is not uncommon for expectations to differ among clients and their attorneys, at least, by the level of their importance. In this situation, it is the responsibility of the attorney to reconcile these expectations and ensure that both client and attorney are operating with similar goals and priorities. An attorney should never claim ignorance of a client’s expectation.

The California Desert Trial Academy is a progressive law school where students focus on those skills necessary to become not just a lawyer, but an attorney-advocate. Learning the skills to be an advocate gives students an expedient path to a successful and rewarding legal career. Call us today at (760) 342-0900 or find out more online here.

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