Clients come in different shapes and sizes, and each individual client comes with his or her own agenda.
Sometimes we make the mistake of assuming the client knows what he or she wants and means what he or she says.
Let me tell you about Karen. She got screwed by her husband (well, not screwed so much as mistreated: the absence of screwing was part of the problem).
You see, Karen's husband was running around on her—big time. Karen's husband had a woman in every port, and he traveled extensively from port to port.
When Karen figured it out, she was irate and quickly sought counsel. Her new attorney talked up the outcome she could expect and plotted a course for maximizing the return Karen might get out of the resolution of this marriage gone awry.
Karen was pleased with what she heard from her attorney: she felt like she was going to get the revenge she deserved.
Of course, the case, like many cases, dragged on for months. Discovery was slow, and hearings were postponed.
At some point, as months turned to more than a year, Karen lost interest in revenge. She wasn't angry anymore. She had other feelings now about the end of the marriage.
Karen became more and more interested in resolution and finality than revenge. She wanted it over.
Unfortunately, her attorney didn't understand that the priorities had shifted. Karen's attorney was still doing her level best to maximize Karen's return. The fight went on and on.
Karen started to get angry at her attorney for allowing the fight to continue. Karen didn't articulate her upset quite as clearly as I'm saying it here. Karen was just upset: she didn't explain exactly what she was thinking or feeling. She was letting her expert attorney do her job even if it wasn't making Karen happy.
Eventually, Karen's upset reached the boiling point, and a tearful, angry, and loud conversation took place between Karen and her lawyer.
Karen explained that she just wanted it over regardless of the result. She wanted to move on, and the legal process was keeping her from making progress.
Suddenly, the attorney understood: Karen's priorities had, over the long course of litigation, changed. Now that the attorney understood what was happening, she made adjustments and helped quickly settle the case.
Sadly, Karen left with a bitter taste in her mouth for her attorney. She wasn't happy that it had taken so long. She won't be referring her friends to her former lawyer.
What could have been done differently?
Karen's attorney could have asked Karen about her priorities every month or so. “What's most important to you now? What do you want to be sure happens at this point?” she could have asked.
Why keep asking? Why not just ask on day one?
Because our clients are constantly shifting priorities. That's the nature of this game. They're moving targets—they're in crisis—changing minds are par for the course.
If you stay in touch with your clients' priorities and don't make assumptions, you'll end up meeting and exceeding their expectations. Don't assume they're still thinking today what they were thinking yesterday. They're not.