Managing client expectation

The duty of a lawyer to represent the interest of his/her client can sometimes be threatened by the expectations of the client being represented. It happens often in the legal profession, where a client briefs a lawyer on a matter, but expects the lawyer to give an impossible result at an unbelievable speed. Take for instance, when a client briefs a lawyer on the day execution is being levied and then expects the lawyer to perform miracle on ensuring that the properties be returned same day.

Or a client briefs a lawyer on recovery of money from a debtor, and expects that since a lawyer is now involved in the matter, the money owed will come out faster, because to the client, since professional fees have been paid, the service rendered by the legal professional ought to yield result.

This expectations of clients sometimes put lawyers under pressure, leading to situations where we find lawyers engaging in one sharp practice or the other to satisfy the expectation of the client or impress the client. To be fair to the lawyer, most especially the younger ones, sometimes the pressure of the client can be so overbearing or frustrating to the extent that a lawyer is tempted to do something that might undermine the image of the profession.

But then, just like a judge is in charge of proceedings conducted in the court room, a lawyer ought to be in charge of how he/she carries out the job of representing a client. It is the duty of the lawyer to manage the client’s expectation by ensuring that the position of the law is explained to the understanding of the client, the outcome of which the client might not like, but be sure to explain it to the client.

Many a times, the client’s expectation is as a result of ignorance of the law. The client can desire a particular result, and be unaware of the procedures to achieving such result, which is the more reason why a lawyer must make the client understand the operation of the law without giving blind assurances.

This writer was in court one day, and over heard a learned colleague in a conversation with his client. It happened that he was briefed on a matter after judgment had been entered, and execution levied. To the clients, the properties which execution was levied upon did not belong to the judgement debtor, and so the lawyer should write a letter to the judge to release the properties immediately.

The lawyer explained that he had to file an inter pleader application, giving the other party time to object or not, and a date will be fixed for hearing of the application.  This did not go down well with the client, in her words: “Why will the other party object, is it not for the court to check who owns the properties and release them?’. The client could not possibly understand why the properties could not be released same day, where such does not happen, the client goes home with the feeling that maybe the lawyer hired, was not good enough.

The expectation of a client can take different forms, and it is something every lawyer must encounter in the practice of law. The idea is to manage such expectation of the client, the best way being to explain the position of the law as it unfolds regarding the matter, by writing a letter if possible after every adjournment explaining what transpired in court and the next adjourned date.

In order to properly manage client expectation, a lawyer must be careful in giving assurances when accepting a brief, these assurances later become traps for the lawyer, because to the client, you assured him that by a particular time certain result will be achieved; and the time has elapsed yet no result in sight.

A legal professional in the performance of his/her duty ought avoid a situation where the interest of the client is the determining factor on how he renders legal services. The client hired a lawyer for a purpose, and so, as you represent his/her interest, you should be in charge of how you discharge your professional duties.


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