Some attorneys make the mistake of engaging in “retainer talk.” This has long been a practice among less scrupulous lawyers.  They try to convince their clients they have the best legal strategy- even if they don’t. However, over-promising with dishonest “retainer talk” when speaking with leads can lead to disastrous consequences.

When it comes to a law practice, one thing is certain: your clients will expect (and even demand) results.  Attorneys feel pressure to sell more than they can deliver to attract business.  But as you know, legal outcomes are hard to predict.  As a result, overselling is never a good plan.

Defining the term “retainer talk” and why it can damage your case

Attorneys describe “retainer talk” as talks between a lawyer and potential client where the former makes promises to secure the client’s business. It can range from simply inflating the lawyer’s abilities to making empty promises about case outcomes.

Although some attorneys may think retainer talk is an acceptable business practice, it is actually a damaging habit causing serious repercussions for both lawyers and clients. When engaging in this type of conversation, lawyers forget their clients want win cases but don’t want their lawyer to lie to them.  Truly, honesty about potential outcomes is best.

When clients enter into an attorney-client relationship based on unrealistic estimations set by attorneys, they will be left disappointed if expectations are not met.  Of course this can lead to costly fee and malpractice disputes. Because making unrealistic guarantees or expectations can damage trust between lawyers and clients, it can get you sued!

Tips on how to avoid “retainer talk” when preparing for a lawyer-client meeting

Lawyers face a delicate balance when they offer advice to their clients: providing sound, knowledgeable counsel without losing the client.  There’s a balance for lawyers to ensure their client fully understands the legal process without turning the client off and losing the case.  However, it is less likely you will regret unvarnished, honest advice.  Contrastingly, overly-optimistic promises tend to get lawyers in trouble.

One answer is simpler than you might think – preparation! Researching a case before taking it on can help attorneys understand the lay of the land and help them in determining an action plan for their clients. Moreover, working through potential questions and root causes prior to a meeting can provide vital context and allow lawyers to provide critical guidance that can make all the difference. Ultimately, putting in the effort beforehand enables attorneys to stay focused on the goal of providing wise counsel without running into “retainer talk”.

Showcasing alternative strategies to communicate with clients without over-promising results

Lawyers can be notorious for their hyperbolic language when dealing with clients, leading to oversold expectations. Thankfully, there are alternatives to this practice.

Never underestimate the persuasive power of the phrase “it depends”! Such a statement still allows lawyers to present an array of options while underlining caveats and encouraging balance in decision-making. Moreover, dedicating time to educate clients on the legal spectrum and risk involved create more meaningful relationships while setting healthier expectations—win-win!

Ideas on how to maintain ethical standards while maintaining good relationships with clients

Lawyers need to work with their clients effectively while also ensuring they are maintaining the highest level of ethical standards.  That’s a tricky tightrope to navigate!

It is important to lay down the ground rules early, prioritizing the needs of the client while staying within legal boundaries. Create achievable goals where both parties understand what is expected, and anticipate potential pitfalls and review options for solutions. Ultimately, lawyers will build up a good rapport with clients as they trust that their needs will be met ethically.

Clients feel valued when they are heard.  As such, it’s essential for lawyers to not just pay attention but also remember clients’ preferences from meeting-to-meeting.  This helps continue to foster positive client relationships. Rather than take a back seat and depend completely on clients’ instructions, lawyers should proactively advocate for policies that promote professional conduct and trust on both sides.

Ultimately, a lawyer should make their relationship with the client simple and straightforward. Refraining from “retainer talk” is an important way to preserve that relationship. As you strive to practice law responsibly and follow ethical guidelines, always keep in mind the importance of remaining transparent, honest, and forthright when speaking with clients. Don’t fall into the trap of engaging in “retainer talk”—it’s not worth it! Remember a legal professional’s responsibilities extend beyond achieving positive case outcomes for the clients. Good ethics will take you far in this profession.  You’ll be much better off being an unbiased adviser than promising something you can’t deliver.