As with all professional relationships, it is paramount that there be a good fit between an attorney and a client. Personalities, expectations, and dynamics play an important role in determining whether the engagement is a success. This “Part One” of a two-part series examines the “ideal client.” Next issue’s “Part Two” will examine the “ideal attorney.”
Often colleagues will ask me to describe the “ideal client.” The expectation is that I will rattle off demographics and statistics describing objective attributes such as average net worth, level of education, age, and family profile. However, what I look for in an ideal client has very little to do with such qualities. My ideal client is someone who (1) has a need that I can address, (2) understands and appreciates the value of thorough legal services, (3) is cooperative and responsive, and (4) is polite, courteous, and a pleasure with whom to work.
(1) Has a Need That I Can Address
Almost everyone has a need for estate planning. Although the word, “estate,” is sometimes a loaded term, estate planning is simply about protecting and preserving your hard-earned assets for yourself and the ones you love, both in the event of incapacity and upon death. Most people have an interest in these pursuits, whether their estates are large or small. Statistics show that only 20% to 25% of people have any estate planning in place. Not only is that a small percentage of the population, but most of the estate planning in place is rudimentary and inadequate. As a result, most people need the services of an estate planning attorney.
(2) Understands and Appreciates the Value of Thorough Legal Services
Everybody who seeks the advice of an attorney knows that they have a need, otherwise they would not seek the services of an attorney in the first place. However, some people seek a “quick fix” at a bargain fee, not understanding that the law often involves complex nuances that must be addressed with detail and measured counsel. The stakes are high with regard to legal issues. In any project I undertake, I want to make sure that it will be done correctly and completely, leaving no loose ends. The ideal client has the same appreciation for a thorough approach to the law and is willing to make a congruous investment to achieve that end.
(3) Cooperative and Responsive
While it is true that the client hires the attorney to perform a service, there is always a give and take with an attorney/client relationship. The attorney will need information from the client, might need the client to perform certain tasks, and will need to make follow-up telephone calls and schedule follow-up meetings. The ideal client is committed to the work at hand and is responsive to the attorney’s reasonable requests.
(4) Polite, Courteous, and a Pleasure with Whom to Work
As with any relationship, good manners go a long way. A happy and friendly work environment is key to making sure that complex legal work is performed correctly. The attorney and staff must feel comfortable and positive about the clients for whom they work. The client must feel the same way about the attorney. Life is too short to deal with the unnecessary angst that incivility creates.
Far too often in identifying the ideal client, attorneys focus on tangible characteristics that do not adequately predict the success of the professional relationship. The aforementioned characteristics are not universal – different attorneys will have different notions of the ideal client just as different clients will have different notions of the ideal attorney. The key is to be able to match those characteristics to ensure a positive attorney/client experience.