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Tried & Proven: Five ways to reconnect with disgruntled clients

By NANCY BYERLY JONES, Special to Lawyers Weekly

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The best way to make clients happy isn’t rocket science. We learned the answer back in kindergarten … be kind to others, unselfish, helpful and respectful.

In the legal profession, this translates into: showing compassion to all clients big and small; charging fair, reasonable and clearly explained fees; offering clear, legally sound and carefully analyzed advice; and showing plain, old fashion respect for others.

Some attorneys tend to forget one or more of these simple basics of excellent client service, causing many of their clients to become frustrated, confused and often beyond angry.

To change such feelings is not easy. In fact, turning a fed-up client into a satisfied one is about as easy as earning an overall college GPA of 3.5 after partying your way to a 1.5 GPA freshman year. But it can be accomplished in most situations with a firm commitment, clear plan and sincere on-going efforts on the attorneys’ part.

The starter list (below) offers a few suggestions on how to regain your disgruntled clients’ confidence.

 1. Address the issues immediately.

2. Give clients your undivided attention and adequate time to “tell their story” and explain their concerns full without interruption or a defensive attitude.

3. Be open-minded and empathetic so you can better understand how things appear from your clients’ perspective.

4. Apologize for the miscommunications, their feelings of being poorly served or disrespectfully treated and for any actual mistakes made, if any.

5. Show them with your timely actions – not mere promises – that you fully intend to regain and maintain their trust and satisfaction. Plus, give them more than they expect, which includes being resourceful, creative and by all means sincere and committed to finding a solution and making things right.

One caveat – this list is for clients who do (or just might) have legitimate gripes with you or your firm and is not intended for lying, chronically-late-payment types or won’t-ever-be-pleased clients who should have been sent packing a long time ago (of course, after making an honest attempt to turn their negativity around).

As mentioned above, this is a starter list and there will no doubt be several other constructive steps you will and should add based on the uniqueness of each situation. These five suggestions, however, are the basic elements for handling most disgruntled client situations successfully.

I’m not sharing some dazzling new data and solutions here. These are things we already know.

But with all the lawyer jokes and rising numbers of legitimate malpractice claims and grievances, too many attorneys are apparently forgetting their kindergarten basics. The reality is that all of us privileged to practice law should be constantly striving to enhance client services, ever mindful of the importance of compassionate, respectful and resourceful lawyering and courageous enough to apologize, make amends and move positively forward when we mess up.

Editor’s note: Byerly Jones assists law offices, businesses and individuals with leadership and personnel development, strategic planning, systems and risk management. A former practicing attorney, she also serves as a mediator. For more information, check out or

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