Handling difficult clients

Top Tips For Handling Difficult Clients in Your Law Firm

Working as a solicitor often involves navigating complex legal matters. But it’s not just the intricacies of the cases that can be challenging. Handling difficult clients can certainly be one of the less appealing aspects of being a solicitor. However, the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people is often the most rewarding part of the legal sector, and the majority of clients are truly appreciative of the dedication demonstrated by their solicitor in resolving their legal case.

As with every front facing profession, it is inevitable that there will be clients who will pose more of a challenge for their solicitor. Clients who are demanding, overly emotional, or uncooperative can create stress and strain for both solicitors and their teams.

With the right strategies, you can effectively manage such situations and maintain a professional and productive relationship. In this article, we’ll explore top tips for handling difficult clients in your law firm.


But first, why is handling difficult clients in the right way so important?

Challenging clients may certainly test your patience and resources. However, the significance of handling these situations in a professional and strategic manner cannot be overstated. How you manage these interactions can have far-reaching implications for your law firm.

First of all, your law firm’s reputation is a precious asset that can take years to build and only seconds to tarnish. Particularly in Ireland, word of mouth travels fast, especially in an era of online reviews and social media. One single negative experience with a difficult client, if not managed with care, can lead to bad reviews, negative publicity, and of course, potential loss of future clients. This can be risky, considering roughly a third of potential clients begin their search for a solicitor online.

Secondly, your legal team’s morale and job satisfaction are essential for a productive and harmonious work environment. While dealing with difficult clients can be emotionally draining, approaching these challenges with a well-defined strategy and a supportive atmosphere will ensure your team remain motivated and united.

Lastly, handling difficult clients can take up a lot of your time and resources, that could be deployed more productively. Effective management of these situations can prevent unnecessary delays and ensure that your firm’s resources are allocated efficiently. This leaves you to focus on your cases and clients as a whole, maintaining the balance between your workload and client relations.

Let’s look at some top tips for handling difficult clients


  1. Effective communication

Good communication when handling difficult clients

One of the foundational elements in client management is effective communication. A key frustration for the client-solicitor relationship is either an absence of communication or issues arising from a miscommunication. In fact, according to some surveys, nearly half of grievances against solicitors is down to an issue with communication. It’s so important to keep the lines of communication open and clear from the start. Set expectations for regular updates, explain legal processes, and listen actively to your client’s concerns. Being transparent about the case’s progress and potential challenges can alleviate anxiety and build trust.

  1. Active listening

Listening is a crucial skill when handling difficult clients. Often, clients simply want to feel heard and understood. As solicitors, it’s important to remember that it is the future of their client that may be at risk, so naturally they will want their voice to be heard. Give them your full attention during meetings, and ask probing questions to uncover their underlying concerns. By addressing their worries and demonstrating empathy, you can lay the foundation for a more cooperative relationship. If you’d like to know more about perfecting listening skills, this article that will certainly be beneficial to read.

  1. Manage expectations

Whether it’s a first time buyer purchasing their new home or an unlucky client navigating a personal injury case, more often than not, it can be their first foray into the legal world. Being in unfamiliar territory can lead to unrealistic expectations surrounding the timelines for each stage of the case, which in turn can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction. To ensure everyone is on the same page from the offset, clearly explain the potential outcomes of the case and the timeframes involved. Being upfront about the challenges and limitations of the legal process can help manage client expectations and reduce disappointment.

  1. Document everything

This is a relatively simple tip to put into practice, and it’s vital to protect yourself and your colleagues. Nobody knows how quickly a client/solicitor relationship can turn sour or what curveballs may be thrown your way. So keep thorough records of all communication, agreements, and actions related to the case. This documentation can serve as a reference in case of disputes and can help you stay organized throughout the legal proceedings


  1. Team support for handling difficult clients

Team support in handling difficult clients

Dealing with challenging clients can be emotionally draining. Make sure your team is aligned in their approach and has a support system in place. Regular team meetings can provide a platform to share experiences and brainstorm strategies for handling difficult cases.

  1. Set boundaries

While it’s important to be empathetic, it’s equally vital to establish boundaries, particularly when it comes to your work hours. Being contactable 24/7 is an easy trap to fall into when you know your client is anxiously waiting for updates on their case. However, this practice will not be good for either you or your clients as it can lead to added stress and potential burnout.

According to Clio’s Legal Trends 2022 report, 69% of solicitors end up communicating on some level with clients outside of their normal working hours. Make sure clients understand your office hours and communication channels. This prevents clients from constantly contacting you outside of working hours and allows you to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

  1. Offer solutions when handling difficult clients

When a client presents a problem, strive to offer viable solutions. This proactive approach not only demonstrates your dedication but can also empower the client to feel involved in the decision-making process. Presenting options can also defuse difficult situations by focusing on problem-solving rather than dwelling on the issue.

  1. Stay calm and professional

In tense situations, maintaining your professionalism is paramount. Regardless of how a client behaves, respond with patience and remain composed. More often than not, the client is venting their own frustrations or stresses and the nearest person – you, their solicitor – can bear the brunt of these heightened emotions. How you react in this scenario can change the outcome of the interaction. By maintaining a calm demeanour, you can influence the client’s behaviour and create a more respectful atmosphere.

  1. De-escalation techniques

You may have heard the phrase, “You’ll get catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”. How does this apply here? Well, when it comes to managing terse interactions, it can be more beneficial to calm down the situation using a sweeter approach. Try some de-escalation techniques such as adopting calming language, acknowledging the client’s feelings, and attempting to find common ground. By showing respect and understanding, you can often defuse hostility and open up more productive conversations.

  1. Know when to say goodbye

Knowin when to say goodbye when handling difficult clients

In some cases, despite your best efforts, a client relationship may become untenable. If a client’s behaviour becomes abusive, consistently uncooperative, or jeopardizes the case’s integrity, it might be in your firm’s best interest to part ways. It’s essential that in these situations, you follow ethical and legal protocols when disengaging from a client.

Don’t be afraid of handling difficult clients

Handling difficult clients is an unavoidable challenge in the legal profession. However, with the right strategies, you can navigate these situations successfully. Remember, every day is a school day and even the most challenging of clients can offer you an experience to learn from. As with any profession, you have to take the good with the bad. So for every difficult client, you may have 100 wonderful and appreciative ones who make your role as a solicitor truly rewarding.

And who knows? Perhaps if you implement some of the tips we have shared in this article, you may end up transforming a difficult client into one who stays with your firm for the long term. Think of the potential when cultivating a positive client-solicitor relationship.

If you’d like to more about maintaining a solid relationship with your clients for the future, we have a great webinar for you available on demand. In Lawyer For Life: How to Optimise and Maximise Client Relationships, we are joined by two powerhouses of the legal world, Teresa Payne and Nigel Harper, to discuss the concept of a “lawyer for life”. This is an exploration of the life-time-value our clients can bring, if we nurture them effectively.

You can book this webinar and many more here, watch in your own time, and receive your CPD cert straight into your inbox.

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