Meeting the Client for the First Time (Part 2)
Match your style with the client's needs
You should set the ground rules for communication as soon as you meet your client. Tell your client how you prefer to communicate, but be sensitive to his or her needs. Your client, for example, may not have a computer to access emails, may be functionally illiterate, or may not be fluent in English or in French.
Do not assume that one size fits all.
Tell your clients that you will try to return their communications in a timely fashion, and let them know when they can expect a reply. Explain that there may be a delay in responding to their call, but that you are committed to resolving their legal problems.
It is a good idea to record the communication plan in your retainer letter. (Retainer letters are discussed later in these materials.) If your client constantly requests updates and information, you need to actively manage his or her expectations. Ignoring the communications is not the solution.
Although it is difficult to provide fee estimates to clients, it is essential to communicate effectively with the client about fees from the beginning. This will help to prevent disagreements about billing as the client’s matter progresses. Section 3.6 of the Code of Conduct sets out some factors you should consider when you set your fee. Some of these factors are: the amount of time and effort required and spent working on the matter; the difficulty of the matter; your experience and ability; and, any estimate or range discussed with the client. Lawyers should have a written agreement with each client which outlines how fees and disbursements will be charged.
Communicating effectively with your client about fees involves more than providing a fee estimate. It requires putting that estimate in context based on the facts and the services the client is seeking. The client must also be aware that the initial estimate may change depending on the circumstances and issues that arise. It is a good idea to explain the steps that you need to take on the file, and an estimate of the time required for each step. You can explain the settlement process at the same time, and the effect of a settlement on the estimated fee.
For more information on legal fees, see section 3.6 of the Code of Conduct on Fees and Disbursements. Also, take note of Part 14 of the Law Society Act, 1996 on Fees and Review, the Rules for the Review of Lawyers’ Bills and the Contingent Fee Rules. An agreement for remuneration to be paid for legal services must contain the information outlined at subsection 83(2) of the Law Society Act 1996 which includes a description of the legal services to be performed and the amount of fees to be charged for the performance of the legal service.