As a public relations professional and mother of two young children, I’ve learned that managing expectations is essential to building strong relationships. With my children, setting expectations is as easy as reviewing the day’s schedule in the morning or providing a five-minute warning before it is time to leave the playground. With my law firm clients, it involves letting them know when I won’t be available to respond to a media inquiry and whom to contact in my absence.

Setting and managing client expectations is a critical component of the service provider-client relationship, yet it is often difficult to achieve. The more time you invest on the front end in planning, the more effective you will be in the long run. If client expectations are not set appropriately from the get-go, the relationship will already be in jeopardy before the work even begins.

Here are five steps to incorporate into your law practice to help manage your clients’ expectations.

  1. Be honest – Ask yourself if your clients’ desired outcomes are obtainable. The truth may be a hard pill to swallow, but your clients will appreciate your honesty.  For example, I am often forced to tell my clients if a topic isn’t newsworthy, even if they are expecting top-tier national media coverage of it.
  2. Communicate – Direct and transparent communication creates a foundation and builds trust with clients. At the onset of a project, provide an outline of how you and your client will work together. Identify how often you will meet and whether the client prefers to catch up via phone and/or email. By collaborating to develop a plan and identify measurements for success, clients know exactly what to expect from a relationship. 
  3. Offer alternatives – Clients are more satisfied when they have some control over a process. Be creative and innovative in suggesting alternative ways to meet a goal. Take the example above: If a client’s topic isn’t going to work, offer alternatives that could lead to results.
  4. Report back – Delivering weekly or monthly reports provides a clear explanation of work completed and goals reached. These don’t need to be elaborate – a simple email detailing tasks completed shows your clients what they’re paying for. At the end of a project, provide a report showing how the results measured up to the original goals. 
  5. Follow up – After a project is completed, follow up with clients and request feedback. Ask questions, such as, “Did we meet your expectations?,” “What did we do well?,” and “How could we have done better?” This information will help you better serve your client on future projects.

How do you manage your clients’ expectation? Leave a comment below or email me at