5 Tips for Paralegals to Improve Client Communication

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

As the liaison between counsel and client, paralegals are called on to handle complex and sensitive exchanges of information. Communicating with your law firm’s clients requires skills in translating legalese, managing documents, keeping track of critical dates, and imparting a level of emotional support. Our 5 tips for paralegals to improve client communication can help you fine-tune your interactions at every stage of the client experience.


Set Expectations Early

As the first point of contact with a client, it is critical that you set the tone for your interactions. Ensure the client understands that you can offer no legal advice – that’s the role of the lawyer – and that everything shared between you is confidential. When the facts of the first interview have been documented (the intake interview is often handled by counsel, with a paralegal taking notes), ask about the client’s preferred method and timing of communication. In your firm’s engagement letter, based on the client’s preference and your ability to fulfill it, specify how often the client will be contacted, the kind of communications you will provide, and the favored method – email, phone, or text.


This is not always as easy as it sounds. A recent “Legal Trends Report” found that 55% of clients want to learn about the legal aspects of their case in person. Not surprisingly, only 2% of lawyers agree. It will be on you to bridge that difference, keeping client and counsel regularly informed without overburdening your lawyer’s schedule with sit-down meetings.


Even if your client prefers to call or text (59% of clients expect lawyers to be available outside of regular business hours), follow up these casual interactions with an email referencing the previous communication so it’s down for posterity. In short, keep everything official.


Now that the ground rules are established, practice the finer points of client communication with our five best tips.


Paralegal improving his client communication by meeting with his clients.

Tip No. 5: Engage with Empathy

Clients need to trust you. Nothing establishes that trust more than listening to their dilemma and offering patient, professional responses. Putting the client at ease is not only effective in smoothing the path of communication, it also improves the quality of the information clients share. If they’re nervous or uncomfortable, they may forget details. A paralegal’s calm and encouraging questions can ease an anxious client, making it more likely they’ll articulate every pertinent factor in the case.


On a larger scale, empathy can play a big role in building your firm’s client base and your own paralegal career. In an iLawyerMarketing survey, 98% of participants said they would research online reviews before hiring a law firm. The survey found 84% would require a firm to have 4 stars or higher and, for most respondents, a positive experience with a firm would matter more than a positive outcome. Commit to communicating with compassion and you can help clients during one of the most stressful events of their lives. In turn, their referrals and online reviews can help set your law firm apart from the competition.


Tip No. 4: Befriend Technology

With so many useful software products now available for law practices, it has never been easier to manage cases, documents, invoicing, calendaring, docketing, and databases. Technology can make client communication easier and more effective, too. Many customer relationship management (CRM) products designed specifically for law practices can help you track interactions with clients and prospects, integrate emails, and interface with a long list of platforms, such as Dropbox and Google Drive. With this kind of integration, sharing documents is a snap. Master the shortcuts of a new app and you’ll instantly improve the efficiency of your interactions and improve the client’s experience with your firm.


Consider also the benefits of automation. For instance, your firm’s fee agreement can be templated, electronically signed, and delivered with little manual input. Before the initial interview, you can submit a digital questionnaire to the client, which helps you know the context and concerns of the case and prompts the client to gather their documents before your in-office meeting. You could consider creating macro email templates with standardized responses to typical questions, freeing you to dedicate more time to the communications that require a personal touch, detailed research, or time-sensitive information.


Keep in mind that nobody wants to receive bad news from a chatbot, so always deliver difficult information in person.


Tip No. 3: Manage Interviews Like a Pro

You will research the law, the facts, the file, and all client documents before you prepare questions for your client interview. Because you will deal with complicated components of the law, this prep work will guide you to devise appropriate and clarifying questions in a methodical way, avoiding the irrelevant, and focusing on the details that will make your case.


But communication is more than what you ask and what the client answers. An effective interview encompasses context, comfort, body language, and the follow-up. Break the ice with softballs that are easy to answer and have only a single right response (start with preliminary data such as phone numbers and employment). Ask open-ended questions to encourage the client to tell their side of the story. Details don’t need to be rushed. Stick to your prepared questions but be flexible if something unexpected comes up in the responses. Take notes on the answers and the client’s demeanor. Each question should focus on only one issue.


More suggestions to keep the information flowing:


  • Paraphrase what the client has said to make sure you’re understanding their intention as well as the details.
  • Nod to show you’re following along. Lean in a little when they’re making an emotional point.
  • Maintain eye contact and a relaxed posture.
  • Use “why” sparingly. Instead, try “what were your reasons for doing/saying this?” Why questions can make clients put up their defenses.


After the interview, draft a detailed summary memorandum reflecting all relevant details, including the documents you collected, witness information, client’s knowledge of the facts, and any requests you made during the interview. Deliver it to the client as quickly as possible, encouraging them to contact you with any concerns.


Building rapport in the interview and the follow-up sets the stage for the deposition and trial, when the client will rely on you to answer questions about procedure, timing, and potential drama in the courtroom.


Tip No. 2: Share the Details of Logistics

For you, it’s another trial. For your client, it’s their whole world shrunk inside a courtroom. A trial is a terrifying prospect for clients, and it is up to you to help them navigate the dangers and the unknowns. But you need to be clear about what counts as necessary information and what counts as overload. One way to manage the details is to create a courtroom checklist, building a separate section strictly for the client. Nonnegotiable are the when, where, and what of the trial, with additional details provided as necessary:


  • Describe the “culture” of a courtroom, the ups and downs of a trial, its characters, and potential obstacles.
  • Provide directions to court, including parking information.
  • Share a daily schedule, walking through the procedures as they will play out.
  • Estimate the length of the trial and how long each day could be.
  • Take time to provide encouragement without suggesting a particular outcome.


Most of the details related to evidence and examination will be handled by counsel, but you may be asked to communicate to the client on any element of the trial. Fortunately, few people in your practice will be better versed on the case or have built a better working relationship with the client than you.


Tip No. 1: Use Plain English

As tempting as it can be to display your expertise with Latin-laced legal jargon, the client needs simplicity and clarity. Which is not to say a client should be left wondering the meaning of esoteric terminology used in court. When terms like voir dire pop up, for example, make sure you explain in concise language that this is simply the phrase used in court for a preliminary examination of a juror.


De-jargoning is particularly important for in-person communication. It can be incredibly upsetting for a client to overhear unfamiliar phrases in a deposition or trial. They tend to think the worst. Whenever possible before an in-person interaction, preemptively explain what will be said and why, speaking your client’s language with no legal mumbo-jumbo.


Translating legal jargon into everyday English is essential to your successful written communication with clients, too. Every document, memo, or letter you prepare should place a high priority on readability, precision, and consideration of the overall client experience.


Paralegal discussing her clients needs in order to improve her client communication.

Advance or Launch Your Paralegal Career with USF 

USF’s flexible Paralegal Certificate Program is designed by paralegals, lawyers, and judges to provide the most in-demand skills in courtrooms, law firms, corporations, and government agencies. The format is 100% online, allowing you to go at your own pace to gain certification in as little as 13 weeks.


Learn More