Mutual Respect is Key to the Attorney-Client Relationship
I know what it’s like to be a client.
I provide services to clients in my law practice, but of course I am also a client in many other settings, and I know what it’s like to be satisfied, or dissatisfied, with a service. I serve my clients from that perspective, hoping never to leave someone dissatisfied, as I have felt so often when I am the client.
Perfection is elusive.
We can never expect things to go perfectly. It's easy to have misunderstandings, especially when dealing with complex and abstract legal matter, which are so different, for example, from a physical service like installing kitchen cabinets, where the issues at hand are plain to see. I'm aware of that, and I'm particularly aware of the fact that the issues I discuss with clients are things that I'm familiar with from my training and long experience, which is completely unfamiliar to them.
I also remember when I was first working in law firms how the senior attorneys spoke to me as if I already knew how to do the specialized tasks they were assigning to me, which were certainly not taught in law school - it was as if they had no memory of a time when these things were unfamiliar to them. So I take my role as a teacher and explainer very seriously - fortunately, that's one of the aspects of my job that I like the most. It's always my goal for my client to understand what I'm talking about, to appreciate why I’m recommending a particular course of action, and – hardest of all - to make sense of the documents that I write for them.
This goal is difficult to reach. It's a challenge every day and with every client, each of whom has their own way of relating to the explanations I provide. So there are inevitable disconnects. Which is why it's also a big part of my practice to correct course when there's any misunderstanding or friction with a client. That's a part of my job that I like a little less than the teaching and explaining, but it's really important and I’m really committed to it. I do my best to listen to the client's concerns and find a way to give a clearer answer to the question or devise a solution to the problem.
Listening, and making amends.
Listening to my client and respecting their perspective is at the center of this work. I'm here to help them, so, by definition, it's their perspective that matters. When their perspective includes criticism of me or my work or my staff, I have to stand on my own feet and receive it, and then do what I can to set things right. Sometimes I've been misunderstood, and I need to correct someone's understanding of a situation. And at other times, I've made an error, or have to take responsibility for an error that was made by someone else under my supervision. It’s my job, and it's ultimately my honor, to take responsibility for everything that my office produces, in all its excellence, and all its (occasional) faults.
The offense of being disrespected as a client.
It amazes me, when I am a client, to see service providers take any other approach. There are two behaviors that I seem to encounter all the time. One is that someone will simply not respond to criticism. If I send an email to Customer Service to check on a delivery, they respond, but if I send one to give feedback about my customer experience, I hear nothing back. Even when I ask for a message to confirm receipt of my feedback, I generally get silence in return. It's amazingly insulting to be treated that way by someone who supposedly wants my business and has already taken my money. The only thing worse than that is the second behavior I observe frequently, which is a service provider responding to criticism by criticizing me back and claiming that the problem is my fault. I’m a bright guy and I generally read the fine print, so it generally isn’t my fault - but even if I have missed something on my end, that’s an appalling way to treat a customer.
The standard I set for myself.
It seems to me that there's an ethical bond between any service provider and any client. Each party owes the other due respect. It’s true if I’m purchasing a Hershey bar at a newsstand in the subway station, and it's all the more true with arcane, complicated, consequential (and, ahem, expensive) matters like legal work. I aim to treat my clients in the way that I expect to be treated when I am someone else’s client.
Ron Meyers graduated from Columbia University in 1992, from Harvard Law School in 1999, and has been practicing law in New York City since 2000. He worked for several years in major law firms on commercial real estate matters, such as the World Trade Center, the creation of the High Line and the redevelopment of Times Square. He turned to private-client work in 2007, opening his own practice in 2009, where has now served over 1,000 clients. He and his team handle estate planning, probate and residential real estate matters for individuals, couples, & families of all kinds.