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The new buzzword in law school interviews over the past couple of years is “client contact.” Law students are always asking how much client contact there will there be when they work at a firm. It is a very good question. There is nothing quite like that first conversation with clients. This is the moment when many associates feel like a lawyer for the first time. Learning how to interact with and work with clients is an important part of your development as a lawyer, so we thought we would offer some hints on the matter. MAKE A GOOD IMPRESSION You are a professional and should act like one at all times. You should promptly return a client’s phone call and be prepared to answer any questions they may ask you. Hopefully, you know enough about the matter and your team’s view of it to give an intelligent response. As a junior associate, however, it is equally important that you do not overstep your bounds. Ask the partner if you have any questions as to whether your answers might be considered legal advice. If you are concerned that the client is seeking too much from you, it is better to say too little than too much. It is appropriate to tell the client that you do not know the answer to their questions and that you will have to ask the partner in charge of the matter. Remember that clients understand that you are not the most senior attorney handling the matter, and are not likely to fault you for deferring to your superiors. Your written product should be neat, well-organized and free from typographical errors. In the beginning, it might be good practice to ask the partner in charge of the matter or the senior associate assigned to the matter to review any of your written work before it is sent to the client. There is a particular vocabulary and rhythm to business writing that does not always come naturally. Soon enough, you will get comfortable with how to do it. Your relationship with the client will shape how the client perceives your ability as an attorney and your firm’s work. You can do great work, but if you do not take care to create a good impression, the client may not fully appreciate just what you are doing. It is always rewarding when a client sings your praises to the senior partner. Trust us, few things are more helpful to a junior associate’s career. SHARE CLIENT’S CONCERNS When discussing a project with a client, it is important that you are positive about what you are doing and that you share their concerns. Try to keep in mind that you are part of a team of people working for the same goal, and that there are aspects of any case or transaction that may appear mundane, and even sometimes a little boring. What may seem like drudgery to you is actually an important aspect of the representation. If the client gets the sense that you regard her work as boring or mundane, she may feel as if you are not doing as good a job as you could. The client is counting on you to do a first-rate job. More specifically, it is important that the client know that you take her project as seriously as she does. Clients not only want to know that you are doing first-rate work, they also want to know that you are being as efficient as possible. Always keep in mind that your time is your client’s money. Keep this in mind when you interact with the client, because appearing inefficient will create the wrong impression. BE YOURSELF You should not be afraid to be yourself when dealing with clients. There are circumstances where discussions with the client are going to be all business and circumstances when they are not. In the latter, you should not be afraid to “humanize” yourself to the client. To be sure, you should not unburden your personal problems on an unsuspecting client, but you should take time to get to know your client and let them get to know you. If you are unsure of just how to act around a client, then watch how others at your firm interact with that person. It is a good idea to take your cues from the more senior attorneys until you have your own relationship with the client. Each lawyer has his or her own style of dealing with people, but you can watch and see how the more senior lawyers act around clients, and then try out your own style when you become more confident. Clients place great trust in their lawyers and allowing a client to get to know you facilitates that trust. It also makes for a more pleasant working environment for everyone concerned. NO LONE RANGERS As you develop a relationship with a client, the frequency of your contacts may increase. As a junior associate, it is a good idea to keep the other members of your team abreast of the contacts you have with the client. For example, if the client asks your opinion on something or gives you some information concerning the matter, let your colleagues know in a short e-mail. Keeping people in the loop can avoid surprises later on. It is equally important that the team to be coordinated and professional in their dealings with any clients. If you have already raised an issue with the client or forwarded information to them, letting others know will prevent confusion and duplication. Remember that you are part of a team and should act accordingly. CORPORATIONS ARE CLIENTS Many of your clients are going to be large organizations. You will often have the opportunity to meet people at different levels of the company. Putting aside issues of attorney/client privilege, for our purposes, you should keep in mind that each person you meet is your client, and should be treated as such. As a matter of prudence, just assume that the most senior people at the client corporation will be aware of how you interact with the lower-level employees. If you fail to treat them with the respect they deserve, it will not reflect well on you or your firm. While that should be justification enough, there is more. Today’s junior employees are tomorrow’s senior employees. That person who you dismissed may someday be the person who can decide whether or not to retain you. As you can imagine, they will remember who treated them well and who did not. A WORD ON PRO BONO We hope that many of you have seen fit to participate in your firm’s pro bono programs. While we know you are aware of this, it bears repeating that pro bono clients are just that, clients. The fact that they are not compensating you for your time does not mean that they should be treated with any less respect than your other clients. To the contrary, whereas many of your clients are sophisticated people with experience in the matters you are handling, pro bono clients are often unfamiliar with the legal system, less sophisticated and understandably scared. These clients may need more contact and more attention from you, and you should be ready to give it because it is part of representing them to the fullest. Client contact is an important part of being a lawyer. With these suggestions, we hope you will find it easier to make a good impression on your clients. Jeffrey A. Fuisz is counsel and Alison McKinnell is an associate at Kaye Scholer.

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