Meeting the Client for the First Time

CAUTION: This course does not discuss your obligation to engage in conflict of interest checks or the Rules on Client Identification.  It is your responsibility to ensure that you always comply with these rules. In determining a lawyer’s duties to a client, the court may be guided by the Law Society conflict of interest rules, but is not bound by them, and may impose a much higher duty owed to the client (MacDonald Estate v. Martin, [1990] 3 S.C.R. 1235). Also review section 3.4 of the Code of Conduct , on avoiding and managing conflicts of interest.

 First impressions

Clients should feel they have entered the office of a professional.  They should be greeted by a clean, tidy environment and be treated with politeness and respect. If you do not present a professional workplace to clients, they will not believe you are capable of commanding respect elsewhere.
After you have been established in your location for a period of years, you might be surprised to find out what first-time visitors think of the place. It is not likely the place that you found when you first moved in. Time has a way of helping to accumulate detritus - old magazines, tatters in your upholstery, faded paint on the walls, or an old light fixture not quite up to the task. Try walking into your office with fresh eyes once in a while to see if the gloss has worn off. It does not have to be expensive or time-consuming to update your office.
You should treat your staff with courtesy and respect and demand that they do the same with everyone who enters or contacts your office.
Be punctual. If you anticipate being late, get a message to the client ahead of time. In circumstances where you are unable to do so, ensure someone in your office can explain to the client that you are delayed and when you will be available. Being late for meetings or court appearances is a sign of disrespect and sloppy practice. Seek assistance for improving your time management skills before lateness becomes a habit.

Listen and think before you respond

You will establish a good relationship with your clients if you listen to what they say, think about what they have told you, and then respond. You should resist the temptation to assume you have heard the client’s story before and already know the solution. In the same vein, you should resist the temptation of speaking over the client in a rush to demonstrate that you are clever, wise, and know the answer to their problem. Develop the habit of letting the client speak, then narrow the issues with follow-up questions, and do not hesitate to let the client know (when appropriate) that you want to do additional work to test your initial assumption about their situation. If you do not listen, you risk offending your clients, and you are more likely to make mistakes.