Using Social Science Methods to Improve Lawyer-Client Communication
Clark D. Cunningham
Georgia State University College of Law
W.G. Hart 2001 Legal Workshop
In striking contrast to any other service industry, lawyers generally do not use even the most rudimentary methods for finding out how their clients experience the services they provide and thus have no way of measuring "how the needle moves" even if they seek to improve client satisfaction. The failure of the legal profession to gather data about client satisfaction in a systematic way may be attributable to a widespread assumption among lawyers that clients care primarily about outcomes not process, an assumption inconsistent with growing evidence from social science research that the quality of lawyer-client communication is an extremely important determinant of client satisfaction.
The Effective Lawyer-Client Communication (ELCC) project was initiated in 1998 and its long-term goal is to determine whether international and interdisciplinary collaboration on the issue of lawyer-client communication can actually change basic institutional practices and beliefs in the legal profession. Analogous experience in the health care field indicates that the critical first step is to develop a practical and cost-effective method to assess the effectiveness of lawyer-client communication that correlates that assessment with the degree of client satisfaction.
We have selected the first meeting between lawyer and client for our pilot study. The initial interview is, of course, the one unit of service that is constant across all forms of legal service delivery. It is also one of the most critical units of service. Unlike many social science studies of lawyer-client communication, the purpose of this project is to actively intervene in the way lawyers communicate with their clients. We believe that such social science research can affect the behavior of lawyers if designed, implemented and explained in ways that lawyers themselves find relevant in terms of client satisfaction and more effective representation.
Date posted: June 22, 2001