What is client care all about?

A convenient – if probably incomplete – way to assess the quality of client/customer care being provided by a business, including a legal services business, is to consider four elements –
– Competence
– Confidentiality
– Commitment
– Courtesy

Competence almost speaks for itself, but includes not taking on work outside one’s area of competence. Sometimes, this is hard: an established client does not want to be referred to a different lawyer, and even a new prospective client will resent having to re-tell their story if it turns out that their need cannot be satisfied by the lawyer they have already spoken to – they will feel like a parcel being passed from hand to hand. However, a lawyer is doing no favours to herself or her client by getting embroiled in aspects of the law outside her expertise.

There is also the need to maintain competence. Lawyers currently have a very low regulatory requirement for continuing professional development (CPD), especially when compared with IFAs and accountants. Over and above the 16 hours of CPD required each year, a lawyer needs to do whatever it takes to keep up with his area of law and its developments.

While one expects all lawyers to be competent in their field of law, this is not always the case: for instance, I am amazed at the number of conveyancers (including solicitors) I come across who use the Standard Conditions of Sale without knowing what they say, or who actually amend the Standard Conditions to their own client’s disadvantage – but that is their problem, I guess.

There is a strict obligation on lawyers to preserve client confidentiality, though nowadays this can be over-ridden by the lawyer’s anti-money laundering legal obligations. Subject to these, the client’s information is confidential and must be kept that way, unless the client authorises disclosure. Sometimes, this annoys third parties intensely: a client was introduced to me by the seller of the house the client planned to buy; after several failures to come up with the purchase money, the seller/introducer understandably wanted to know what was going on but, despite my own serous doubts as to my client’s bona fides by that time, I remained bound by the obligation of confidentiality, and had to stonewall all questions. I felt extremely uncomfortable – and still do, every time I see the introducer in the High Street, but I hope he now understands that I could not disclose any information without the (ex-)client’s authority

Commitment is usually quite easy: most legal work requires a reasonable level of commitment, which is fairly easy to give. Some work requires extra commitment – at the simple level, coming into the office when it is closed for the Christmas break in order to exchange contracts or complete a transaction to suit the client. Sometimes more commitment (or stubborn-ness) is required, when a client is being bullied – or where the bully threatens to break one’s own legs! (This did happen to me about 25 years ago; whether I would have been as committed to pursuing the client’s cause once I had a family to consider, I have not yet had to put to the test)

Courtesy should be easy to provide, but some clients do test one’s patience! Also, it is more than mere politeness, but a question of putting oneself in the client’s shoes and treating them the way one would wish to be treated. This includes small but important aspects such as keeping the client informed; not keeping them waiting; etc

So, this is how I break down the elements of client care. Are there any I have missed, or have I mis-stated any?


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