This is the third post in a series on professionalism. This one is about making “keepable promises” with regard to deadlines and deliverables. We, at Magnus, work in a world with many deadlines; very often, these are deadlines beyond the control of our clients. That is, judges set trial dates and discovery deadlines with which the lawyers must comply. Of course, waiting until a deadline is imposed is not optimal, but that is another story. In our world, when we are asked to provide services like a focus group or mock trial, there is a “ramp up” period. Things take time. Our work doesn’t happen overnight. Logistics take time. Even as the world has sped up in the last 30 years, there is still a time element. Overnight delivery sped up getting documents to us when compared to the mail. Then came faxes, then email, and for us these days, a client upload/download portal or Dropbox. Getting retained, via wire and ACH transfers, is faster than overnight delivery, but getting retained is more than just getting paid. All “delivery” methods take time. In our world, on the front end, recruiting the participants (mock jurors), booking a facility and making travel plans, and reviewing the documents/writing the survey take considerable time. After the research date, much time is involved in data analysis and report writing. Having set the stage, this brings me to setting client expectations. When we receive a call about a new case, one of the first questions I ask is when the client needs our work product; generally, this involves asking about a trial or mediation date. Sometimes, we are called too close to those dates. It is painful to tell a potential client that we do not have time to help them, and it is rare that we can’t do something. But, pulling a rabbit out of a hat takes skill. On our end it sometimes involves juggling the case load and prioritizing, or re-prioritizing. Yet, from the outset, a key to good client relations is being realistic in explaining work timetables and creating the expectations for when certain milestones will be accomplished. We never want to be in the position where we are not delivering when promised. Rather, beating deadlines is our goal and more often than not, we do!
I recently observed my 50th anniversary of employment. Having lost my father at an early age, I had to work in order during high school to help my mother with our household expenses. In 50 years of working, I can proudly say that I have never, ever, missed a deadline or failed to deliver my work as promised. I have worked in various jobs, including manual labor in a wholesale palm tree nursery, several retail jobs, telemarketing, the humane society, research assistantships during college and graduate school, academia, the corporate world, and finally, as a trial consultant, including 30 years of being self employed. I say what I am going to do, then I make it my business to do what I say. I am not perfect, actually, I am far from being perfect, however, I have always taken pride in my work and I strive to meet or exceed the expectations of those who are depending on me, including clients, employees, and vendors. One of my major frustrations, across my 50 years of working, is working with people who do not share my commitment to managing expectations within the context of teamwork. For example, when someone knows I am unable to complete my portion of an assignment until he or she completes an initial portion, it communicates to me that, not only are the transgressor’s work habits slovenly, but he/she has little or no concern for the impact of tardiness, poor quality work, or a combination of the two on others on the team, including me. Now that I have been “the boss” for 30 of the last 50 years of working, it is interesting to note that other people have consistently revealed themselves to be unable to meet or exceed expectations. Yes, it is true that leopards don’t change their spots, but I keep hoping that some of them will change their ways!