Tax Practice Pointer: Potential Client Interview

Gray Reed
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Gray Reed

A new client presents a great opportunity, but there is also great risk that the relationship will not be a good fit. If the client is not a good fit it will be bad for both sides and result in hurt feelings, damaged reputation or worse.  Here are some steps for conducting successful interviews with potential clients.

  1. Greet the client, explain your role and express appreciation for the client’s time.
  2. Put the client at ease.
  3. Transition to the interview by explaining the dual purpose of the interview.
  4. Determine if the legal matter is the type that would interest to you.
  5. Determine if the client is one that you would have an interest in representing.
  6. Communicate to the client the anticipated steps.
  7. Listen to the client – what’s the most important thing to the client at this point? The client wants and needs to tell you his or her story and then receive some advice. The client might not think of that story-telling communication as a goal, but it almost always is an important need. Many clients have, in fact, been rehearsing their story for some time.
  8. How to address the client’s initial need to tell their story is something that is handled differently by many. It is a reflection of their personal style and the subject matter of their practice. There is no right method here, although there are some wrong ones, such as the lawyer doing most of the talking, using lots of unexplained legal jargon, and allowing little or no time for follow-up questions by the potential client.
  9. It is important to control the initial client interview from the beginning and avoid letting the client wander into irrelevant matters that could waste a lot of time.
  10. Interrupting the client could keep the client from telling the story.
  11. Ask open-ended question like “So what are you here to talk about today?” or “Why have you decided to seek advice?”
  12. Maintain eye contact – looking someone in the eye while they are talking assures them you are the focus of their attention.
  13. Be alert for non-verbal cues – observing your client’s posture, tone and expression may help your initial communication process.
  14. Repeat back what was said – one of the best ways to verify understanding in communications is to rephrase and repeat back the message. This technique reassures the client that you did understand what was said and may provide an opportunity to correct a misunderstanding.
  15. After the client has paused in his or her “opening statement,” you now have the opportunity to ask for clarification and details. Good note taking is an important aspect of the interview, as is completing the information on the in-house forms that your office uses for initial interviews.
  16. At this stage, a primary concern becomes whether the client can and will pay the fees in the amount that appears likely.
  17. Your fees should always be discussed at some point during the initial client interview. Everyone is concerned about the expense of purchases, whether goods or services. You should never assume that a client knows what an attorney fee should be or does not care about the amount of the fees.
  18. Get a retainer fee. Deposit it in your trust account. It is the business-like thing to do.
  19. You should have an engagement agreement.

If you choose not to accept a client, then you should send a non-engagement letter and keep copies of these letters in a separate file on your computer in a file called “non-engagement”. If you are uncomfortable with the client or if there are statute of limitations concerns, you should send the letter “return receipt requested.”

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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