How to Respond to Client Phone Calls and Stay in Control of Your Day.

How to respond to client phone calls and stay in control of your day.

You take pride in being available to your clients whenever they call – and they expect to reach you whenever something pops to mind for them. The problem is that can derail even the most well-crafted daily plan. It seems like your only choice is to either react to client calls all day – and do your work on nights and weekends, or risk making your clients unhappy or not being available when they really need you.

Try these tips to be both responsive to your clients when they need to get you on the phone and stay in control of your calendar.

Have a live person answer your phone to screen your calls.

When your clients call they probably want to hear a live human voice. It doesn’t have to be yours. A well-trained assistant answering your phone can quickly find out the nature and urgency of the call and get it right into you if you are free. If you are not free the assistant should be able to respond to routine questions or schedule a time for you to call the client back.

This solution requires some training for you and your assistant – as well as clear communication about how to handle the most common situations. This includes being clear when you are in the office but you are not really available because you are working on other priorities. When you make this effort your clients will continue to have a positive experience, and you can be more in control of your day.

Use technology when you can’t have a live person answer.

You can still stay in control even when you do not have a person to run interference on your incoming calls. Try updating your voicemail greeting daily so that callers know if there are blocks of time when they can’t reach you – like when you are going to be in other meetings – and how to reach you in a ‘true’ emergency. Ensure that your top clients are in your phone so you see the name before you answer.

Stay in control when you have to answer yourself.

Follow this roadmap to stay in control when you find yourself answering a call and you are on a deadline or to get back onto your schedule. In the first part of the conversation, and before the client dives into their story or issue in-depth, find a way to ask some questions to identify the issue they need to have solved. If you have a deadline, let them know. For example, if you have to be someplace at the top of the hour you might say: “… I want to make sure I can give your issue the attention it deserves. And I do have another appointment at the top of the hour, so let’s get some information now, and then we can reconnect later in the day…”   You will then know if the matter is so urgent that you have to adjust the other appointment. Always do this in the early part of the conversation and not at the end when you have no time left – or they may feel like you are brushing them off.

Leave space in your calendar.

When you plan your day leave open time so that you can adjust without blowing up the rest of your day. Then, when the call is over take a look at what needs to be adjusted. If you are back-to-back on appointments or commitments it will be very difficult to adjust. It is better to have fewer blocks in a day, and then add more in than to adjust and re-adjust.

If you’d like more tips on how to take control and free up time in your day check out my latest productivity hack for lawyersClick here to get your copy 

Doug BrownHow to Respond to Client Phone Calls and Stay in Control of Your Day.
Read More

How to Reason with an Unreasonable Client

Your clients come to you because they have a complicated and high-stakes problem they can’t solve by themselves. They are stressed out, anxious and uncertain. This triggers primal fear responses that can make even the most reasonable person behave in unreasonable ways.

How do you reason with an unreasonable person? The truth is you can’t. But there are things you can do to help lead your client back to a place of reason so you can move your matter forward – or at least avoid further melt-down.

First, recognize that your fight, freeze, flee reflex is likely activated when you are confronted with this situation. You are going to need to engage your conscious mind to move through these primal reactions and respond effectively. It can be really difficult to do this even after years of practice and experience. A good first step is simply recognizing that this is happening to you, and giving yourself some mental space is  to get control and decide how to respond, rather than react.

Here are a few of the most effective tactics to address this situation:

  1. Listen & stay calm. The person needs to feel heard and you can’t make progress until that happens. Stay in the moment listening. Don’t be thinking about what you are going to say next, or how to get them to stop. Listen. Don’t let your anger or frustration escalate the situation.
  2. Don’t be defensive. This is a tough one, especially since your client may be frustrated with you or something they believe you did, or didn’t do. And they may be totally wrong. Arguing and being defensive in the moment doesn’t work. Trying to reason and explain while they are in crisis won’t work either. You will have the chance to set the record straight – after you’ve de-escalated the situation.
  3. Look for the hidden need. Look for the bigger picture. What is this person trying to gain? What are they trying to avoid or solve? What are they afraid of? If you can get to the root cause from their point of view you’ll have leverage to bring back reason.
  4. Respect the person. We think we know what the client is going through, but you probably don’t. Avoid judging them, assuming or creating stories in your head about their behavior. Ask good questions and treat them with dignity – the way you would want to be treated.
  5. Help them move back to solid ground. Telling someone to calm down and be quiet will make them more irate. Saying “I understand” typically doesn’t help either. Keep asking questions to understand. Help them move into a place where you can work together on solutions in the future.

Sometimes the client or the situation is just too far gone to have a hope of bringing them back to reasonableness. That’s when it’s helpful to have another perspective to help you resolve the situation in a way that best serves you, and the client.

Finally, unreasonable clients should be the exception for you – not the rule. If you are finding that unreasonable clients are the norm then there is probably something else going on that needs to be addressed. If that sounds familiar, then we should talk – because you ought to be able to have a practice working with clients who you like, who appreciate you, and who pay you what you are worth.


P.S… Do you have a difficult client situation you need to resolve? I might be able to help. Click here for a free and confidential strategy call.

Doug BrownHow to Reason with an Unreasonable Client
Read More

How to Avoid Clients from Hell

It happened again. He knew he shouldn’t have done it. And now it’s too late. 

Bob gave his client his personal cell phone number. And now his client calls him late at night and on weekends. He wants to share his ideas on how to handle his matter. He wants updates. Sometimes, he just wants someone to talk to. All the while the meter is running. And Bob knows the client will fight every entry when the invoice arrives.  Bob’s client is showing all the symptoms of CFHS – Client from Hell Syndrome.

Sometimes perfectly normal clients who you think will be your “A Level” develop CFHS after you’ve gotten started. Or you just missed the tell-tale signs before you accepted them as a client. Either way, once a client starts showing symptoms you’ve got to take action – because the symptoms will get worse if left untreated.

Turning the client around

Treating clients with CFHS is one of the early lessons I share with my private coaching clients. It comes up as part of upgrading their client base so they can make more money in less time. We’re often successful following the performance improvement plan model I used with employees when I was an executive. 

At its most basic level, a performance improvement plan outlines the standards for working together, the behaviors to meet the standards, how you will measure, and the consequences of not meeting the standard. If the employee meets the standards then the issue is resolved. If they do not, then at least you gave them the opportunity to make it right.

Often the CFHS behaviors are rooted in the fear and loss of control that comes with having to hire a lawyer and show up because there isn’t an understanding or agreement on how and when you should be communicating. Just because you explained what they should expect in your retainer agreement or in an email doesn’t mean they’ve read it and understand it.  

The most important step is to have a conversation with the client – at a time they are not in crisis mode – to discover what’s driving the behavior and set (or reset) the standards on how you will communicate with one another. You can’t do this by email or text. It needs to be a live conversation.

Once you know what is driving the behavior you can agree on standards you’ll use for communicating and responding to one another. I’ve found that this human approach diffuses the fear and can reset a relationship – and turn the client around. I even had it happen with employees who, after a long period of poor performance, felt relief to finally understand what was required, and how to succeed. It can happen with your clients too. 

Firing the client. And then there are clients that just need to be fired so you can go on with your life and practice. If there is no hope then your mission should be to wrap up representation quickly, safely, and efficiently.  Don’t wait. It won’t get better with age. Be sure you comply with the rules of professional conduct. If it is really contentious then consult with your malpractice carrier in advance. They don’t like surprises any more than you do.

Staying out of the fire. Most times you can sniff out a client from hell as part of your client acquisition and onboarding process. You just need to know what to look for – and heed the warning signs. Don’t trust your memory or your gut instinct. Write down the things to watch for – and make them part of your client selection and onboarding process.  And if you don’t have that kind of process, it’s time to start.  If you’d like help with that just click here and let’s talk.



Doug BrownHow to Avoid Clients from Hell
Read More