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Enhancing Communication Practices in Law Firms

From individual clients to companies big or small, lawyers communicate with a lot of people on a daily basis.  The operational efficiency of a law firm lies in the cohesiveness of the firm’s communication environment.  Enhancing communication environment throughout the firm allows to improve engagement, reduce the possibility of errors, create a more productive and healthy working environment and most importantly keeps clients well informed.  

Unclear and ineffective communication can lead to a lack of trust in a law firm.  To earn trust, lawyers must clearly communicate tasks, responsibilities and expectations, among others.  Falling short of an effective communication may hurt the performance of a law firm.  

Below are best practices to enhance communication at your firm: 

1. Develop guidelines for internal and external communication

A documented guideline is a form of internal communication.  Not only it guides members of the firm through the processes adopted in the firm, it helps everyone to identify how to get things done in a more organised manner.  After all, consistency is the key to making things simple.  This enables the firm to establish safe and effective communication within the firm as well as with potential and current clients.
A cohesive company culture will not develop if the firm management does not promote the same values and goals.  Employees should know where to expect specific updates and information.  
In creating an efficient system for communication:
  • Decide which employees “need to know” about different categories of communications.   For example, the account’s employees and marketing department do not need to be inundated with case updates or new legal precedents.  This way, employees will be able to focus more on their department matters.  
  • Assign responsibility for handling communication related to certain cases to a specific partner or legal associate in the firm.  
  • Decide on appropriate channels for certain types of notices.  For instance, client or case updates should always be handled through formal channels such as through letters and emails.  
2. Delegate, Supervise and Trust

When employees are micromanaged, it tends to send a message that there is no trust to perform the tasks given to them.  When this type of environment exists, it stifles morale and ultimately supresses communication particularly between employees and supervisors.  Employees would start to feel inadequate and disengaged from the success of the firm.  They would no longer feel comfortable bringing their concerns to their supervisors or managing partners, which could prove detrimental to the firm as a whole.  

A much better alternative is to give employees a sense of ownership and goals in order for them to carry out their tasks.  Providing crucial advice, pointers and support when necessary would aid the employees more in completing their given tasks. 

The benefits of effective supervision is as follows: 
  • Train employees to improve their knowledge and skills;
  • Keep the firm organised;
  • Improves communication;
  • Increases confidence;
  • Maintain quality and standards; and
  • Affects overall results and work performance.  
3. Keep it necessary during meetings

It is always better to keep meetings concise and use this platform to deliver and receive meaningful communication.  Not only unnecessary meetings would stifle communications, they also tend to waste the firm’s time and money.  

Implementing the following practices during meetings aids in meaningful communication: 
  • Have a written agenda for the meeting.  It is also useful to distribute it ahead of time to allow adequate preparation by attendees.   
  • Determine the duration of the meeting ahead of time and organise it to stay within the planned time frame.  Effective organisation fosters useful communication within the allocated time.   
  • Be selective when inviting attendees.  Not everyone needs to attend every meeting.  Be sure to only include those individuals whose presence is necessary to meet the goals of the meeting.    
4. Avoid unnecessary automation
Automated communication is a useful tool to let someone know that you’re unavailable or not reachable.  Apart from appropriate use of automated replies, the automated template message ideally should include: 
  • Information on the business working hours;
  • The duration that the lawyer is away;
  • The expected respond time to the message sent; and 
  • Information of the next person to contact if it is an urgent matter.
By providing these information, it gives assurance to the sender (who may be a potential client or current client) assurance that they will receive a response as soon as possible.  This helps manage anxious clients eager to know the status of their case and manage any sender’s expectations.  
5. Managing expectations and keeping the pace of communication

When representing a client in an active legal case, client will expect frequent updates and contacts.  At this time, it is better for the employee who handles the client to keep up a steady pace.  If, for some reason, the rate of communication changes, explain the situation to your client and let them know what they can expect moving forward.  If they do not understand why you are not reaching out as often, they tend to assume that their case is not a priority anymore and that you are not working as hard as before.  

Managing client expectations and standards in a solicitor-client relationship involves communication which includes: 
  • Getting in contact by email and phone call;
  • The frequency of providing case updates;
  • Establishing times of availability for communication. 
Setting these boundaries will help manage a client’s expectations, avoid disappointments and negative feelings towards the firm and most importantly an improved communication.  Therefore, to maintain a strong solicitor-client relationship, important case information, bad news, or calming a client’s anxiety should be handled personally.  The significance of personally communicating matters should not be underestimated.  

It is of no doubt that with better communication brings better productivity and fosters good relationship.  Building a culture of enhanced communication within your firm is the foundation for a successful law firm.  The firm’s vibe, effectiveness and performance can be influenced in a bad way if communication is failing.  The above suggestions result in a more efficient and more communicative operation leading to a healthy work environment, happy and productive employee and satisfied clients.