Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Adjusting Client Expectations

Shawn Matlock posted here about the "The Business of Winning." He made some important points about the practical aspects of the criminal justice system including the reality of plea bargaining. Shawn stated: "There are degrees of winning, and there are degrees of losing. A win for one client is a loss for another. Every case is different. Every client is different." Earlier this summer, Mark Bennett posted here about "winning," as well. Mark stated: "If 'losing' means having a jury convict a client, then any lawyer who tries criminal cases, loses cases. The lawyer who has never had a client convicted by a jury hasn't tried enough criminal cases."

Identifying and managing the expectations of our clients and potential clients should be a normal part of our client intake systems. A satisfied client is one who's realistic expectations about their case have been met, or exceeded. Consequently, criminal defense lawyers must be in the business of realigning any unreasonable expectations of our clients, both outcome oriented and service oriented. What Shawn and Mark were doing in their posts was exercising the important skill of adjusting client expectations. In other words, these experienced lawyers were "under-promising" but "over-delivering."

This client management truth was best illustrated in the original Star Trek science fiction T.V. series. Scotty, the Enterprise's chief engineer, constantly under-promised but always over-delivered when getting Captain Kirk and the ship out of trouble. In every engineering crisis, because of the constraints of time, resources or physics, Scotty would declare a solution impossible. But he'd always deliver just what the Captain needed, just when he needed it, to save the ship and crew.

If we want our clients to be satisfied we must help them develop realistic expectations. To exceed their expectations they must have a reasonable outlook on what can be achieved in the defense of their criminal case. This should be a normal part of the criminal defense lawyer's client intake process.

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