The difficult art of handling clients

By Julius Melnitzer | February 6, 2023

The art of managing one’s clients has befuddled many a lawyer. But Sean Dillman, an enterprising, tech-savvy, ex-general practitioner and co-manager of a law firm has come up with a novel approach: a client prepared for the lawyer experience, he says, will be much easier to manage.

To that end, Victoria, B.C.-based Dillman — who’s taken a two-year hiatus from practice to launch a career as an instructor, web-developer and videographer to the profession — has produced a video titled How to Hire a Lawyer (And Get Great Results) – 5 Rules for Success.

“The video is really about how to be a good client,” he said. “Because lawyers are such busy people, it’s efficient for them to simply review it, make sure they’re happy with the content, and give them the links to the content.”

There’s also an access to justice angle here.

“The advice can help alleviate the strain on overworked lawyers and help people get representation by being better clients,” Dillman said.

The feedback so far has been excellent: the Manitoba Bar Association has indicated that it will distribute the video, and Pro Bono Ontario has advised its lawyers about the videos “so they can point callers to it in appropriate cases.”

For clients who are themselves busy people, Dillman suggests that lawyers simply advise them to look at five basic rules for getting the most out of their lawyers. And the rules are simple enough indeed: Be organized; be nice; be dependable; be reasonable; be respectful.

Being organized involves providing information about the parties, events and relevant issues, together with supporting documentation.

“I’ve had clients bring a shoebox of disorganized documents to our initial meeting,” Dillman says. “The upshot is that the first meeting is never as effective as it could be because I need to spend my time helping my client organize their thoughts and sort through their documents.”

What’s also useful is the simple, practical advice about how to organize documents: by date using a year-month-day convention; in a three-ring binder, using sheet protectors for original documents; employing tabs to categorize them; and if possible, scanning the documents and providing them on a USB flash drive.

Dillman’s gone so far as to prepare a template that lawyers can provide to clients for getting their information organized.

Then there’s “be nice.” Remember that although lawyers are bound by professional ethics to do the best job they can for all clients, they understandably enjoy working for the nice ones more; don’t badmouth other lawyers or adverse parties; and you can share information about people doing bad things without name-calling or complaining.

“Be dependable” is a bit of a no-brainer. Be prompt and make yourself available at critical moments such as the day a deal is closing.

“Generally, being dependable also means behaving in a way that doesn’t exhibit red flags,” Dillman said. “Don’t be cagey, evasive, secretive, desperate, or try to do your own legal work.”

“Be reasonable” means tempering expectations even before seeing a lawyer. But it also means not asking questions lawyers can’t answer or at least not answer immediately, like how long it will take to complete the work, whether the lawyer can provide an all-in cost estimate at the outset, whether the lawyer can do the work for less than someone else or less than their usual rate, whether success can be guaranteed, and what the likely result will be.

Finally, “Be respectful.” Respect your lawyer’s time, space and expertise.

“Unless you have reason to believe that your lawyer isn’t doing a good job or working diligently on your file, it can be counterproductive to continually request updates, be a backseat driver, and repeatedly ask ‘Are we there yet?’ ” Dillman advises. “The more time that your lawyer needs to spend responding to your request for an update, the less time they have to work on your file.”

Dillman has also developed various practically oriented courses for lawyers ranging from Gain More Control Over Microsoft Word to Control Your Email Inbox & Digital Documents to Increase Productivity & Profit to Prevent Burnout & Enhance Wellness. The Law Societies of British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan and the State Bar of Texas have all accredited Dillman’s courses for lawyers.

Julius Melnitzer is a Toronto-based freelance legal affairs journalist and communications and media consultant to the legal profession. He can be reached by email directly at [email protected] or at his website,


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