Setting Communication Boundaries for Healthy Client Relationships

Technology can be a double-edged sword when it comes to your clients. When there’s good news to share, you can reach out in an instant. If you need more details for a case, your client is just a click away.

But just because clients can contact you at any time doesn’t mean they should. Remember: Your clients expect their bosses to respect their work-life balance. You should expect the same from them.

The Washington State Bar Association offers this important list to help identify when your communication boundaries are in danger:

  • Altering the established management of your communication: either more or less than your customary frequency of phone calls, written correspondence, emails and/or texts
  • Disruption of your normal office routine
  • Providing “special treatment”: meeting at odd hours, providing your home phone number, allowing “drop in” appointments (if that is not your customary practice), agreeing to unusual requests
  • Increased level of overall stress in your life, which can result in increased vulnerability to boundary violations
  • Avoiding discussion of unrealistic or inappropriate client attitudes and/or perceptions of you and the attorney-client relationship
  • Unusual or out-of-proportion feelings or reactions toward your client, or thinking about a client in a personal or emotional way


Here’s a few tips for setting communication boundaries at any stage of a client relationship:

For new clients

  • Start early. Clients are more likely to respect boundaries if they’re in place from the onset. Ask for their preferences, communicate yours and figure out a plan that works for everyone.
  • Set the right tone. Email and texts can easily drift into a more casual arena, especially now that real estate lawyers are closing on homes in their sweatpants via Zoom. But communications need to keep consistent levels of professionalism, no matter the arena.


For existing clients

  • Make changes where it counts. If your clients prefer email over phone calls, or vice-versa, there’s no need to rock the boat. Boundaries are about what works for everyone, so only change what’s needed for your emotional health.
  • Don’t worry about repeating yourself. Add your available hours to your email signature, include them in your communication portal and remind clients of any changes as needed.


For yourself

  • Figure out your personal, realistic limits. Does it make sense to reply to only email after hours, but not take calls? Choose certain days of the week, like Monday and Thursday, as your after-hours days? Write out a plan and stick to it.
  • Identify your designated communication tools. Rule 1: Never, ever give clients your personal email or cell number. No matter how hard you try to set a boundary here, clients will contact you at inappropriate times. Smokeball Communicate allows you to use your preferred technology, including your personal phone or smartwatch, without divulging personal information. Securely send files, auto-track hours and get clients the answers they need, all in one place.