The client retainer letter ~ WOW or yawn?

When I started in private practice we talked about Rule 15 letters, which set out certain regulatory requirements and the scope of the retainer. They were seen as a chore then, and the latest incarnation is no better. And, if anything, is substantially worse, given how prolix it makes you appear, and arse-covering.

It is not and never has been client friendly. Neither does it help that practically the opening paragraph tells you what you need to do if you want to complain, which is suggestive that there is or is likely to be a problem with the service.

I wonder how many clients take time to read the letter? Very few and if they do, do they understand what it is you are trying to say?

I have no desire to bamboozle clients but why don’t firms make it easy by having an electronic format to deliver the information?

Think of the last time you signed up to something on the internet. You merely ticked a box to confirm that you had read the terms. You may have lied when you said you had read them, on the basis that you couldn’t be bothered, or you pretty much knew that the terms were going to be so one-sided that it wasn’t worth the hassle but you didn’t get a 10-pager in the post!

Let’s face it, it’s not like you can partially tick the box or go back and say:

“Now look here why should I agree those terms?”

Why should law be any different?

In my experience the only time it  becomes relevant is to argue the semantics of the scope of the retainer in a professional negligence case or, more commonly, to argue about a bill.

It would be much more impressive if firms were to repackage the retainer letter as a Service Level Agreement, one where their client was told how long they would take to deal with an email, letter or telephone call. To borrow a phrase from Tom Hopkins when talking about goals: “You have to be specific to be terrific.” And better still if you agreed to refund part of your costs if you messed up. I bet the client would read your letter then.

Even the name Service Level Agreement makes it sound much more positive.

Next time you sit down to complete your retainer letter, why don’t you think how you can generate greater client involvement and a WOW factor. Don’t be dissuaded just because a whole army of people spent weeks drafting the ‘House Style’ retainer letter.

I don’t remember a single occasion where the client was asked for their feedback. I suspect a lot of clients just think it is long-winded nonsense, with no purpose other than to protect the firm. Perhaps you should ask your client to rate your letter from 1 to 10. Anything less than 8 means you have work to do.

~ JS ~