Practice Management

Client-centred perspectives

Practice Management

This edition of BarTalk features practice management, a foundation of a lawyer’s work. Most of what we do for practice management focusses on three goals: (1) an efficient operation capable of realizing profits or other business goals, (2) meeting Law Society requirements to protect the public, and (3) minimizing our risk of loss, aka “defence-proofing” our practice. Each of these goals are met through a myriad of strategies, systems, and technologies.

There is no doubt that this core of practice management is necessary and important. But what about exploring some of these issues through the lens of the client’s experience? What does the client see or hear when a lawyer states a requirement? Is a client more confident in the advice or the lawyer’s reliability? Does the client even understand what has been said? Is the way lawyers execute their practice what clients need?

One of the obvious areas to explore is client communication, both in content and presentation. The use of language is critical to our work. Is the language we use appropriate to our client’s comprehension? As well-educated individuals, adept at reading and comprehending massive amounts of written communication, what we understand and how we communicate with each other may not be appropriate to assist our clients. Perhaps there is a simplified way to explain some of our practice requirements. Maybe we could use less jargon or words that have become familiar to us, but have different meaning for our clients. For example, “retainer” and “conflict check,” are not words familiar to most people. Perhaps “deposit” or “available to help you” might be terms we could substitute.

As Microsoft explores its new default font and the provincial government introduces the Accessibility BC Act, you might want to consider what font, and what font size, you use in presenting client communications. Accessibility advisories indicate that “sans-serif” fonts, also known as fonts without decorations, are easier to read. Always using 12-point font, rather than shrinking the font size to fit a letter on one page, will also make it easier for clients to read and comprehend.

Several firms are changing the language they use to explain and promote their services to appeal to their target clients. These changes are evident in websites, initial contacts, and then throughout the lawyer-client relationship. This strategy reflects a client-centred approach. Does the client want to hear about an “area of practice” or “how we can help you.” Do they want to hear about “dispute resolution processes” or “solving your problem”? When you or your admin assistant speaks with the client, is it about your schedule and how you are busy or don’t have time until later, or is it about finding a time to focus on the client.

Some say these changes are just “marketing-speak,” but what we say and how we say it makes a difference to our experience. Think of the last time you had an unpleasant experience with a service. What was happening? How did you feel? Could your interaction have been better if different words were used, an improved tone, an easier communication to read or understand, or more realistic timing.

One of your best partners in reviewing practice management systems is your administrative assistant or paralegal. They often have insight to client reactions, questions and feedback and can help shape changes. Another excellent source is your clients. Asking them how you can improve their experience with you and the legal team can give you ideas and solutions that may also make your own experience with them much better.

Understanding the user perspective is important in all decision-making, including the production and design of this magazine. This June, we want your input to make BarTalk better. Access our survey at and tell us what you think. We want to make your experience relevant and meaningful to you.