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By: Jacqueline King
Guess what, TPSers? Jackie’s back! With a big ol’ helping of great tips and candid advice, served up with a side of humor. That’s our style. And hers. See what a great relationship this is? Do continue to encourage it, okay, TPS Nation?! That means lots of likes, shares, and comments to further fuel the words-on-a-page-addiction and lure her back to us.
It’s time to scroll and read, people. The reader is you. The time is now. The tips await. And so do the clients.
Clients. We love them. We loathe them. Some days, running head first into a wall repeatedly seems less painful than dealing with them. Some we consider friends by the end of an emotionally taxing case. Regardless of how we feel, one thing never changes, without them we are jobless. One step away from announcing the next blue light special on aisle 13. We work for them. Remember that; it’s hard to do at times. Especially when your attorney gets to the stage of being more selective with his clientele or the clients act like zombies have eaten their brains. But, they are the real boss. They pay us to perform a service for them. It’s easy to think it is the other way around, because they need our advice and professional guidance. I have heard paralegals say things such as, “I’ll get to them when I get to them,” “I’m too busy to talk to them,” or “they can wait” when clients call or walk in. I think I got whiplash my head snapped around so fast. Seriously, I had to have misheard them. Did I? Nope, I didn’t. They just volunteered as tribute for the firm. May the odds be ever in their favor. This and other common mistakes are easily avoidable.
One of the top complaints from clients and bar complaints, when it comes to paralegals, or firms, is lack of communication. Clients believe they have an open ended line directly to our desk. Some can pester you worse than a 4-year-old asking that dreaded “but why” question nonstop. Lunch, sick days or surgery? Out of the question. Seriously, do you really need your gallbladder taken out? We are expected to remain shackled to our desks to await their calls with bated breaths. Kind of how we wait for the pizza delivery guy. Or, I do anyway; I would probably sell my kid for a good pizza. Regardless, it doesn’t matter. It’s our job. We have to respond to them. If your clients call, call them back. Send an email. Send a carrier pigeon, with a handwritten note. Message in a bottle. Smoke signal. Whatever it takes. Do. Not. Ever. Ignore. Them. Not only is it the quickest way to lose clients; not calling clients is a sure way to a permanent vacation. (Not the good kind either.) Not responding to clients is an easily avoidable mistake. Be realistic, but respond to them. Same day is always best. Twenty-four hour turnaround is fine. Forty-eight hours is pushing it. Anything longer than that is not acceptable.
Another common mistake is failing to keep your clients updated and informed. In a world where technology is making everything less personal, make your clients feel important. Red carpet treatment the entire case. Make them know you care. This is an area my firm stresses. The clients should feel like they just found the golden ticket and are headed to the Wonka factory of law offices. Clients should never have to ask the status of their case. You have failed your clients if they have to call you to see what is going on. Pick up the phone. Say hello. Tell them the current status. Tell them the other side is slower than molasses and nothing has changed. Tell them you just wanted them to know you are still alive…and working. But, talk to them. They pay us enough money to do so. Clients should never feel like they are not worthy of our time. Ever. They are our time. They are the reason we punch a clock each day. Emails are great, quick and efficient. But, every now and then pick up the phone and let the clients hear your voice. I mean come on, who wouldn’t want to talk to us anyway? We are fabulous kick-ass paralegals.
Along these same lines, copy your clients on documents you prepare or send out. I don’t care if you sent opposing counsel an email asking where the insurance card is. Clients are going to get billed for that. Clients want to know it was done and what they are paying for. Imagine getting a bill for shoes you’ve never received. First, so wrong to tease a woman about shoes. Second, we don’t want to pay for something we don’t have. It’s the same for clients. When I began as a paralegal in my firm this was my first mistake. We prepared documents, filed them, served them on opposing counsel and worked the file. When the client received the invoice, and I had not sent copies of the work product to him, he questioned what was done. Granted, we could provide the documents to him, but I learned that day that clients want to see what they are paying for. He was upset and did not want me to work on his case anymore. I hung my head and did the walk of shame back to my office. Then I stood up straight, fixed my crown, learned from my mistake and from that moment on, I have copied every client with everything. No matter how miniscule it seems to me.
Let’s get one thing straight though. Clients are the reason we work, but this does not mean you should allow them to mistreat you. We all have one. “That client.” The bane of our existence. You know, the one that sucks the soul from you. The one that makes you feel like the Purge should be allowed. Just one day. Twenty-four hours. Is that too much to ask for?! Some bait you. They want you to lose your cool. They love to complain about how horrible you are. After all, you are just the “hired help.” Maintain your professionalism the most with them. I know it’s hard. I have had to walk out of the office before to walk around and to breathe. But remember what Sam Donaldson said, “Only amateurs stay angry.” We aren’t amateurs—we are professionals. Count backwards from ten, get a stress ball or go suck on your nicotine stick, whatever works. But, breathe and let it go, let it go! (I know, you just sung that too.) Remember, those clients are the same ones who turn into angels when the attorney walks in. Halo and all. No matter how bad they can be, they are still your clients. Call them first. Do their work with a smile. Don’t let them see you falter. Then, get them out the way. The rest of your day can be sunshine and rainbows!
Finally, remember that clients see us at a point in their life that is traumatic for them. Traumatic to us is going to the kitchen and there being no coffee, or donuts, to get us through Monday morning. Traumatic to me is no lipstick in my purse. Traumatic to them is their mom died, someone scammed them while they were building their dream house, or they broke both legs in a car accident. Our traumatic is nothing compared to theirs. So yes, they can be overly emotional. Yes, they tell us things we probably don’t need to know. A hundred million times. But in some ways, we are their shrink. (Wonder if I could get a couch in my office, for clients, not naps of course.) We are there to support them in whatever they need. If they want to pay us to explain how the opposing party is the spawn of Satan, or that unicorns really exist, you listen. With the emotion they need you to show. Because, we genuinely do care. In the end, isn’t that why we all chose this profession? To wear our capes and help those clients in need. Sometimes, we just need the reminder.
Jacqueline “Jackie” King is a North Carolina State Bar Certified Paralegal for Rose Harrison & Gilreath, P.C., in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Jackie is a 2005 graduate of Halifax Community College with an Associate of Paralegal Technology, a 2014 graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelor of Law & Society and a current student at West Virginia University where she is working to earn her Masters in Legal Studies. Jackie’s current workload includes federal and state litigation, estate planning and estate administration. When she isn’t working, she is with her husband and two daughters or finding new body art in the tattoo parlor. She may be contacted at JackieKingNCCP@gmail.com.
Wishing you a fabulous day in the legal trenches, my friends! Problem client? No problem! (Remember that.) And keep on, keepin’ on. We know you will.
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We’ll catch you on the flip side…
(I don’t even know what in the heck that means, but we’ll see you there!)