Three Tips for Communicating Bad News to Clients

//Three Tips for Communicating Bad News to Clients

There’s no way around it, at some point, you’ll have to deliver bad news to your clients. Whether it concerns a delay in a custody battle, a real estate closing that fell through or an unfavorable ruling, informing your clients about a setback to their case isn’t a conversation any attorney looks forward to. While there’s no good time to deliver bad news, there are a few ways you can save face and attempt to lessen the blow. Here are a few ideas:


Discuss with them in person

In today’s digital world, we have a tendency to hide behind our phones, computers and other devices, opting to connect via email and text message rather than in person or over the phone. While it may be most convenient for your busy legal staff, it’s not always the best option for your relationships. Think about this: when engaging in these digital exchanges, how often you or others misconstrue tone? Add in a little bad news, an anxious client, an email not worded carefully enough and you’ve got quite a mess on your hands. In order to avoid making a negative situation worse with an unfortunate digital miscommunication, try to make every effort you can to deliver bad news in person. Your client still may be upset about the latest development in their case, but sympathetic body language and tone can help smooth things over.

Explain, explain, explain

Legal matters are stressful, especially for clients who don’t know what to expect. A setback, although minor in the grand scheme of things, may be perceived very differently to a client who doesn’t have a strong understanding of the legal process. When delivering bad news to clients, make sure you take the time to explain what this recent development means and how it affects them and their case. Avoid using legal jargon if you can, as well. This will make them feel more comfortable and knowledgable about what’s happening with their matters.  

Share your next steps

In the legal industry, things don’t always go according to plan. When this happens to your clients, make sure you have an actionable response plan ready to share with them during the same meeting you deliver the bad news. Presenting clearly spelled out next steps in response to their particular setback shows clients that you’re ready to move forward and not let a little bad news affect your efforts. It will also serve as an indicator that you’re taking care of their needs, making them feel more at ease and comfortable with you as a legal partner.

Being the bearer of bad news isn’t ever an enviable job, but with the right demeanor, explanation and next steps in mind, you can make clients feel better about the developments in their legal matters.

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By |August 11th, 2015|

About the Author:

For years, Josh has helped lawyers become more organized, productive, and profitable. A trained litigator, Josh came to Smokeball from a large east-coast law firm where his practice focused on franchise, insurance, marine, and general litigation. His work with Smokeball, and his continued passion for what he does each day, is driven by a desire to help lawyers and their staff do better in every way. Knowing well the stress and strain put on today’s legal professional, he regularly focuses on improving work and life in the law. He has traveled the country working with and learning from lawyers and their staff. Josh speaks regularly to bar associations about successful law firm practices and other legal topics. Recent notable engagements have been with the Chicago Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, and the Missouri Bar’s Solo and Small Firm Conference. In addition to his work at Smokeball, Josh serves on the Writing Resource Center staff at The John Marshall Law School. Besides legal technology, his research interests include judicial decision-making, jury decision-making and psychology, and legal writing. He has written and overseen research exploring causal effects of sex/gender on federal appellate court decision-making, and assisted with research for a forthcoming textbook on judicial decision-making. Additionally, Josh sits on the Board of Directors of Chicago-based Community Activism Law Alliance and on the Board of Directors of Chicago Fringe Opera Company. Josh holds his J.D., cum laude, from Washington University in St. Louis, where he served as a Senior Editor of the Wash. U. Law Review, held the prestigious Thompson Coburn Research Fellowship, served as Research Assistant to then-Vice-Dean (now Chancellor) Andrew D. Martin, and clerked at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and a B.M. in Music Performance with Honors Scholar distinction from the University of Connecticut, making him a Huskies basketball fan through and through. Follow Josh’s activity on LinkedIn, and keep up with new articles on the Smokeball Blog.