Avoid Complaints by Managing Expectations

With the start of another school year, I thought I’d take time to go back to basics.  And here’s a basic truth: a lawyer never has to respond to a disciplinary complaint that isn’t filed.

What’s the best way for a lawyer to avoid a disciplinary complaint?  Set clear & reasonable expectations at the outset of the attorney-client relationship and never stop managing those expectations.

I’ve blogged on this issue before.  One way to think about the issue is to remember both Charles Dickens and Cool Hand Luke.

Dickens wrote Great Expectations.  Probably because nobody would’ve read a book called Reasonable Expectations.  Indeed, I’ve yet to read about the client whose reasonable expectations were met. Yet, as I’ve blogged, left untempered by the lawyer, a client’s great expecations often provide me with reading material — with “reading material” being a disciplinary complaint..

Similarly, nobody would’ve remembered (or paid to see) a movie about succesful communication between prison guards and inmates.   But, “what we’ve got here is failure to communicate” is one of the enduring lines in movie history.  As I pointed out in Client Communication & Cool Hand Luke, it’s also the perfect approach for an attorney to ensure that a client files a disciplinary complaint.

Lesson: a great way to minimize the chances that a client files a disciplinary complaint is for a lawyer (1) to set clear & reasonable expectations at the outset of the attorney-client relationship; and (2) to manage those expectations by providing the client with clear & candid communication throughout the representation.

Back to Basics