What Are Strategies for Managing Client Expectations in Uncertain Cases?

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    What Are Strategies for Managing Client Expectations in Uncertain Cases?

    Navigating the complexities of legal cases with uncertain outcomes requires adept management of client expectations. We've gathered insights from twelve legal experts, including attorneys and managing lawyers, on their successful strategies. From mediating with preparation and realism to prioritizing transparency and regular communication, discover the diverse approaches these professionals take to maintain client trust and clarity.

    • Mediate With Preparation and Realism
    • Emphasize Process and Potential Outcomes
    • Outline All Possible Case Outcomes
    • Communicate Risks in Understandable Terms
    • Maintain Honesty in Immigration Law
    • Be Transparent and Provide Regular Updates
    • Offer Detailed Roadmaps and Regular Updates
    • Explain Mechanics and Long-Term Strategies
    • Soothe Bad News with a Sweet Gesture
    • Discuss Scenarios and Maintain Transparency
    • Educate and Set Realistic Expectations
    • Prioritize Transparency and Regular Communication

    Mediate With Preparation and Realism

    As a divorce attorney who mediates settlements with couples, I work with both parties as a neutral facilitator. At the time of divorce, it is not uncommon for one spouse to label the other as a narcissist. Mediations involving such high-conflict personalities are more challenging, and thus it is important for each spouse to have a plan for the negotiation. I encourage these clients to seek out assistance from my referral network resources, including those who understand how to negotiate successfully with a narcissistic personality type. I coach clients to prepare, stay focused, and plan for how they can best approach the process for success. But at the same time, I also warn that these negotiations will be tense, there will be concessions required, and that it's crucial that they have an understanding of what they will and will not negotiate. Without heeding my counsel, a mediated divorce with a narcissist likely will fail.

    Scott Levin
    Scott LevinFamily law attorney, San Diego Divorce Mediation & Family Law

    Emphasize Process and Potential Outcomes

    This is one of the hardest tightropes you can walk. From the civil defense perspective, the goal is to never lose focus on the process. Focus on each step the client will likely need to take in order to defend their case: an initial interview, written discovery, oral discovery, and trial. Now, the probability of each of those steps very much depends on the case; the facts, and the other side. Yet, consistently reminding the client that oral discovery and trial are very real possibilities keeps them apprised of not only their case but also their respective outcome.

    Travis Hookham
    Travis HookhamAttorney, Lanza Law Firm, P.C.

    Outline All Possible Case Outcomes

    My firm, North State Law, exclusively represents licensed professionals in front of their licensing boards and state agencies. As a result, there are typically a variety of potential outcomes in each client's case. The best way that I have found to manage client expectations is to simply let the client know each potential outcome for their case, from the best outcome for them to the worst outcome, and everything in between. In North Carolina, attorneys are required to discuss all outcomes of cases with their clients, and it's just good practice. One thing that I and my staff do not do is guarantee an outcome. Even the most experienced attorneys do not know the outcome of every case. Plus, guaranteeing the outcome of a legal case may be an ethics violation in your state.

    Nick Dowgul
    Nick DowgulAttorney/Owner, North State Law

    Communicate Risks in Understandable Terms

    Some lawyers have difficulty talking with their clients rather than at their clients. For your benefit and theirs, clients must understand the risks of uncertain litigation, especially the potential cost of a loss, so they can make informed decisions. My advice is simple: Tell your clients the unvarnished truth in language they can easily understand. Only by understanding and accepting that multiple outcomes are possible, some good, some not so good, will clients make appropriate decisions about uncertain cases, or, for that matter, any case in litigation.

    Mark M. Bello
    Mark M. BelloAttorney, Author, Podcaster, Social Justice Advocate, Mark M. Bello

    Maintain Honesty in Immigration Law

    In the immigration law practice, everything is uncertain and subject to change. Immigration lawyers are prohibited from guaranteeing any outcome. So, from that perspective, it is easier to manage clients' expectations. All you have to do is be honest and ethical.

    Clear and honest communication is key. Most clients are adults and sophisticated enough to understand when you say you will do your best but cannot guarantee a certain outcome. Offering alternatives to the client when the client's desired outcome is not achieved can help immensely. I always offer Plans A and B, and strategies for both scenarios.

    Rakhmad Sobirov
    Rakhmad SobirovManaging Lawyer, Sobirovs Law Firm

    Be Transparent and Provide Regular Updates

    One way I've managed client expectations in cases with uncertain outcomes is by being upfront and transparent from the get-go. I sit down with my clients and explain all the possible scenarios, the good and the bad. I make sure they understand that while we will do everything in our power to get the best outcome, there are variables we can't control.

    I also keep the communication lines open throughout the process. Regular updates, even if there's nothing major to report, help keep them informed and reassured that their case is being actively managed. It's all about building trust and making sure they know what to expect at each stage, so there are no surprises.

    Aaron Winder, Esq.
    Aaron Winder, Esq.Founder & Personal Injury Attorney, Winder Law Firm

    Offer Detailed Roadmaps and Regular Updates

    In cases with uncertain outcomes, such as providing legal advice during the incident response to a data breach, one effective way to manage client expectations is through clear and continuous communication. For instance, I provide clients with a detailed roadmap outlining potential scenarios, regulatory requirements, and possible legal ramifications. Sometimes there are not many details to outline at each stage, so it is important to bring that to the client's attention and inform them of what information is required to provide more detail or actions that must occur. Regular updates on the situation’s progress and transparent discussions about the risks and uncertainties involved help ensure clients are well-informed. This approach fosters trust and enables clients to make informed decisions while preparing for various potential outcomes, whether litigation or regulatory inquiry.

    Shawn Ford
    Shawn FordPartner at Ceiba Law - Incident Response & Privacy Lawyer | Founder & CEO at RIGC - Strategic Risk & Crisis Management Advisor, Ceiba Law | Resolution Insight Group Corp.

    Explain Mechanics and Long-Term Strategies

    When working with government agencies like the USPTO, the time it takes to reach a positive outcome can vary dramatically with strategic choices and the narrative that develops with the agency. In my practice, we take time to explain the mechanics of tricky cases so that clients not only understand the possible outcomes but also why those outcomes might occur and what makes each more or less likely. An important strategy with an agency like the USPTO (and foreign patent offices) is discussing the long game, including backup positions, potential pivots, and what "trick plays" we might be able to leverage. A nimble approach allows us to attack from multiple angles, sometimes at once, to maximize outcomes. Keeping all of this in mind, we work with clients to find strategies that align with their goals.

    David ShoreSenior Patent Attorney, Foley Hoag

    Soothe Bad News with a Sweet Gesture

    One way to moderate expectations when you have to deliver bad results in person to a client is to offer the client a candy or a piece of chocolate to lift their blood-sugar level so they feel slightly better before you deliver the news. You may scoff at such advice, but it helps soothe the upcoming pain.

    Andy Semotiuk
    Andy SemotiukU.S. and Canadian Immigration Lawyer, Pace Law Firm

    Discuss Scenarios and Maintain Transparency

    From the very first meeting, our firm clearly outlines the legal process, potential outcomes, and the inherent uncertainties of the case. Using transparent communication, we make sure the client understands that while we will strive for the best possible outcome, there are variables outside of our control.

    Our firm regularly discusses best-case, worst-case, and most likely scenarios, thereby preparing the client for all possible outcomes, including the potential for setbacks.

    By maintaining clear, consistent, and transparent communication, we build trust and keep clients informed and prepared, thus effectively managing their expectations despite the uncertainties of the case.

    Daniel Abiodun
    Daniel AbiodunParalegal Law Firm, D.A. Commissioning & Legal Services, Barrie Ontario.

    Educate and Set Realistic Expectations

    Managing client expectations is always challenging, but even more so in uncertain cases. Three tools I have found to be successful are: (1) educating clients so they go into the case with 'eyes wide open'; (2) setting realistic expectations for outcomes, timelines, and costs; and (3) maintaining open and honest lines of communication throughout the case. Taken together, these tips ensure that your client understands their case, is prepared for the rigors of litigation, and will not be caught off-guard by the ups and downs of litigation.

    Going in 'eyes wide open' means the client understands the merits and weaknesses of their case, has realistic litigation timelines, and has at least an approximation of the costs involved. By setting realistic expectations at the start of an uncertain case, the attorney can build trust and help prevent the client from overreacting to the daily fluctuations in the case. Finally, maintaining an open line of communication ensures the client won't be surprised and that they always have the most updated expectations for the case. Managing client expectations is always important, but taking deliberate steps in uncertain cases to ensure the client is informed, engaged, and has proper expectations allows the attorney to focus on the case, not the client, which is a win-win proposition.

    Joshua Offenhartz
    Joshua OffenhartzAttorney, Koeller Nebeker Carlson and Haluck

    Prioritize Transparency and Regular Communication

    One effective approach to managing client expectations in cases with uncertain outcomes is through clear and consistent communication. At Melmed Law Group, we prioritize transparency by explaining the legal process, potential challenges, and possible outcomes right from the start. We provide regular updates and make sure clients understand each step of their case. Additionally, we set realistic expectations by discussing both best-case and worst-case scenarios, helping clients to stay informed and prepared for any eventuality. This approach not only builds trust but also ensures that clients are never caught off guard by the developments in their case.

    Jonathan Melmed
    Jonathan MelmedFounder, Melmed Law Group