Why, if lawyers are supposed to be good communicators, are the majority of LAWPRO claims related to communication issues? In 2014, for example, the broad category of communications accounted for about almost a third of claims reported and claims costs. We asked some lawyers to give their opinions on how lawyer-client communications can break down.

Appearance matters: Empathy is important

How can lawyers understand what clients truly want if they don’t listen?

And how can lawyers listen if they are distracted by other files or aren’t accessible to their client in the first place? Not caring and appearing to not care are the same things in customers’ eyes. In other words, it’s all about perception. Being unreachable and distracted gives the appearance of disinterest, says Dilip Soman, a professor of marketing and communication strategy at the Rotman School of Business.

“If it is easy to access my service provider, I feel that provider is more in tune with my needs,” he says. “For example, I received an email from my car dealership the other day saying ‘it’s time to service your car,’ and I emailed them back and I got a message saying this ‘email address isn’t functional, you have to call us.’ If I get an email I expect to be able to email back.”

This type of breakdown can give the perception that the service provider doesn’t really want to hear from the client at all. And people pick up on it when the service provider doesn’t really want to be helping with a problem, says Soman.

“You know that they don’t want you there. You can sense they wish you didn’t exist, but because they’re a customer service agent they have to be there,” he says.

The lawyer may be dealing with more than 100 files of varying importance, but as far as the client is concerned, there’s only one file that matters – and it’s that of the client.

Early in his career, Stephen Pike, now firm managing partner, external, at Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP, had a client pull him aside and say “I know I’m not your only client, but can you treat me like I am.”

“I never forgot that,” he says. Now he makes sure clients know they are the most important part of the business, which Gowlings holds as a vital value in its client services model. Nobody likes to be put on hold or made to feel ignored or unimportant, so the solution is relatively straightforward.

“Needless to say there should be no interruptions during a consultation. This means turning off email and the phone, and asking staff not to interrupt unless it is an emergency,” says family, wills and estates lawyer, Lawrence Pascoe of Mirksy Pascoe LLP in Ottawa.

“If you are expecting an interruption, then you should warn your client beforehand that you may be interrupted.” LAWPRO Executive Vice-President Duncan Gosnell adds: “Ultimately if the advocate doesn’t seem to care, what confidence should the client have in the advocate?”

For more reading on communications breakdowns see: When a lawyer doesn’t care

This is excerpted from the article “Let’s Get Talking”, from the 2011 issue of LAWPRO Magazine. All past issues of LAWPRO Magazine can be found at

Categories: Communication Errors