Thursday, May 26, 2011

The six rules for delivering bad news to clients

From Above the Law's columnist Mark Herrmann, an experienced in-house chief counsel and author of The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law:

1. The client must hear the news from you first. If the client hears the news from a Google alert or an e-mail from an old friend, you’re starting off on the wrong foot

2. The news must arrive promptly. If you’d promptly call to tell the client that you’d just won the summary judgment motion (and you probably would, to share the moment of glory), then you should promptly call the client to say that you’ve lost the summary judgment motion (because the news is equally important and equally time-sensitive).

3. If at all possible, you should deliver bad news by telephone or in person. I understand that it’s easier to send an e-mail reporting the bad news, but that’s why e-mail (or a voicemail message, or a letter) isn’t acceptable. The worse the news, the more important to deliver it personally.

4. Be clear and direct when you deliver the bad news. Beating around the bush doesn’t make life easier for either you or the client.

5. Do not sugarcoat the bad news: “We lost the motion for a temporary restraining order, and this is great! Now we can beat up on the other side in discovery, and they’ll still have the threat of a future defeat hanging over them.” You won’t fool anyone when you sugarcoat bad news, and you may well infuriate someone.

Click here to read Mr. Herrmann's final suggestion - come up with a plan for moving forward.


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