Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : March 2006

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 SOLO/SMALL FIRM PRACTITIONER

BY PAT YEVICS  

Rules for Managing Client Expectations

In last month's column, I talked about the problems of client expectations in a 24-7 world. This month, I want to actually give some suggestions on rules for managing your client expectations.

As always, there are exceptions and caveats. For instance, if you have already allowed some clients to access your private space and time (day or night), it may be difficult (if not impossible) to break the habit. In some rare cases, it might even be critical to allow them this type of access, but not for all clients in all situations.

Unlike other "administrative" rules and procedures, some clients may have to be treated differently depending about their case or situation. Having given my disclaimers, let's see if we can set some guidelines.

E-mail
Many firms and many clients use e-mail. You need to set parameters for the use of e-mail (this is necessary for confidentiality issues as well as quality-of-life issues).

bullet Rule: The Yevics Law Firm uses e-mail to correspond with clients. Someone from the firm will respond to all e-mails within 24 hours. However, we may not be able to answer your question within those 24 hours, especially if the matter requires some research. All e-mails will be billed the same as a phone call. (Note: If you do not bill for return phone calls, this is not necessary. You may not wish to put this in your procedures.)
bullet Rule: The Yevics Law Firm will not send any confidential information via e-mail. We suggest that clients not send any questions that may be sensitive or confidential via e-mail.
bullet Rule: Please inform us if you wish to be contacted by e-mail and how often you check and respond to your e-mail.
bullet Rule: It is not the policy of the Yevics Law Firm to forward client e-mails outside of the firm. If we feel the need to forward information that you have sent us in an e-mail, we will first obtain permission. Forwarding e-mails should not be allowed for many reasons, most notably because you do not know in whose mailbox it will land. (If you have not heard or seen the tale of the two Boston lawyers whose e-mails were circulated all over the globe, go to www.boston.com and click on "E-mailers get testy.")

Phones
If you use your cell phone in the same way that you use your office phone, then some of these rules may not apply. If you have an office phone, then I think you should not put your cell phone on your card or give it out to all clients. If your cell phone is your office phone, then you might want to consider a separate personal phone.

bullet Rule: Use of cell phones is now universal. We use our cell phones for business purposes but our cell phone numbers are not to be used except for emergencies. We check our voicemail regularly and will make certain that our voicemail gives detailed information about our schedule on a daily basis.

When leaving a message, please let us know if we may call you at home after regular business hours. We will make every effort to have someone contact you at a time that is convenient for you. If your case or situation is such that you need to reach us in an emergency, we will provide you with an emergency number.

Emergencies
(This is where you will list those situations that you think a client should contact you at home or at your cell phone.)

bullet Rule: Your case or matter is very important to you and it is very important to our firm as well. There may be times when you have an emergency and need to contact us. If this applies to your case, we will give you our home/cell phone numbers. The following can be considered emergencies which would require you to call our home/cell phone…

Security Issues
Another concern with (primarily electronic) 24-7 communication is security. The more information we send into cyberspace, the more we are coming to realize that much of it is not secure and confidential.

There will not be enough space in this article to discuss all of the details of security related to electronic and wireless technology; we will address that in future articles.

In the interim, here are some sites that discuss issues related to WiFi security.

bullet How WiFi Works - computer.howstuffworks.com/wireless-network5.htm
bullet Complete Guide to WiFi Security - www.jiwire.com/wi-fi-security-introduction-overview.htm
bullet WiFi Security for small businesses from Hewlett Packard - www.hp.com/sbso/productivity/howto/it_wifisecurity/index.html

I think that we should all be using the technologies that are available to provide our clients with outstanding service. However, we should be the ones setting the rules to ensure that we can manage our time effectively. We should not be using the technologies to work more, but rather to work better.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: March 2006

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