JW Way Fundamental #3: Clarify and Manage Expectations
“Establish mutually agreeable expectation as to the time, expense, and goals of every engagement. Let people know what to expect and when. Ensure clarity by reviewing goals, action items, responsibilities, and dues dates to ensure expectations are understood.”
We are all familiar with the following scenario, whether in real life or in a movie. The leader of the team is giving final instructions for team’s plan of action. The leader says, “We go on the count of three.” Everyone nods and prepares for action, when a voice interrupts and says, “Wait. Do we go on three or is it 1, 2, 3 and then we go?” Clarification is essential for a successful plan. Without it, the team cannot operate well and its actions will be disjointed and inefficient or perhaps fail entirely.
We all know that it is important to make it clear to the client the anticipated time and expense that their case may take. In order to answer that question, it is important to establish the goal and mutually agreeable expectations to ensure that every team member knows what successful conclusion the team wants to reach. Is the goal to win at trial? Or is it to try to resolve the issue as quickly and simply as possible?
You must also make your expectations clear for yourself. It is impossible to build mutually clear expectations with others if you have not defined your expectations.
When meeting with the client and staff who are part of the team, there needs to be discussion about each team member’s responsibilities. It should be clear who is doing what, including the client. It is important that the clients know that they are an integral part of the team and have important responsibilities, such as having a frank and open discussion with the attorney about their situation, attending any consultations with experts or family counselors, adequately preparing for depositions and arriving on time for them, or timely providing information for disclosures or responses to discovery requests. Giving the clients ownership of their responsibilities may afford them a feeling of control in a situation where they feel out of control. Communicate about everything; knowing expectations gives a sense of comfort.
Expectations may change as things develop and perceptions play into expectations. Managing expectations is not a one-and-done process. Think of a sailboat heading for its destination. There are factors that may affect its course – change of wind direction, tides, the wake of another boat – and cause the need for corrections. The course must to be monitored and corrected/adjusted as needed to reach the final goal. Captain and crew must constantly communicate and rely on each other to accomplish their duties and meet their expectations.
About the Author: Carole Alexander is a legal assistant at the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk.