Ultimately, the objective of both client and lawyer is to find a modus vivendi – an arrangement allowing the parties to coexist peacefully so that both benefit. Unfortunately, this is so often not the case. And this leads us to the questions of 1) why are there conflicts and 2) can conflicts be avoided?
By far the most common cause of client dissatisfaction, if not outright conflict, is the sudden arrival of an unexpectedly high bill. If a fixed, capped or success based fee arrangement, combined with interim time sheets and invoices is provided, this should not happen. Sometimes. the problem is due to billed hours exceeding what was indicated at the outset by the lawyer or worse not discussed at all. A problem which could usually have been avoided had the discussion taken place and expectations been managed or if the client been regularly updated either when a billing threshold was reached (hours expended) or with a certain frequency (say, fortnightly).
Updating a client as to the status of the fee account should be easy to organise even for the average lawyer as most already use time, fee and task management software which they continuously update. It should therefore be relatively easy to forward an update if not to configure the system for alerts and even allow the client a limited online ‘view’ of the total hours and fee. If lawyers don’t provide it, clients should demand it.
Another reason for conflict is the inevitable dissatisfaction which comes from an unexpected outcome or even an expected outcome with worse-than-expected consequences such as an award of costs. This is a fact of life, mostly reflecting the uncertain world in which we live. There are most definitely rapacious lawyers who encourage clients to carry on with expensive litigation or other dispute resolution pathways. However, an unexpected outcome or loss should not be attributed to the lawyer without due care which is so easy to do with the benefit of hindsight.