As attorneys, your client relationships and communication is 80% of what the job entails. If you have a short fuse, it can result in the loss of current and long-term clientele. In practice, and in life, you will come across different types of people with different ways of approaching and handling the problems they face. In order to build a client base, you need to earn their trust. They must believe you are going to work your hardest for their best interest. Communication is key to lasting client relationships.
It is extremely important to understand yourself and increase your awareness of others to build long-term clients and a successful career. In every communication and in any relationship, you will always want to do two things: prepare yourself and seek to understand.
In preparing yourself, you will work to increase your self awareness so you are more conscious of your automatic reactions. An attorney will react to their client both physically and emotionally. Take note of your body language and your facial expressions and avoid the look of judgment. You don’t want your thoughts written all over your face; it is important for attorneys to remain calm and focused. Take 5 deep breaths before communicating with a client, prepare yourself to remain composed regardless of what comes out of the clients mouth. You should be able to make rational decisions about how to approach each particular attorney-client relationship.
Seeking to understand various personality differences between clients will help you to communicate more effectively. There will be types of clients that you will recognize immediately because you have worked with clients like them previously and there will be clients who throw you a curve ball. You should be ready and able to adapt yourself to their different needs based on the personality of that client. This will aid you in managing your reactions and responses, improve teamwork between you and reduce the overall stress levels.
When working with clients, there are general communication issues you will likely face:
Why won’t this client stop talking?
We have all dealt with this client, and likely many of them. All they want to do is talk and talk and talk, and it is mostly irrelevant to the attorney-client relationship. In these situations, you want to just listen. Allow the client to talk, wait for them to finish speaking and then confirm your own accountability. You will have to adapt to the situation by entitling them to speak (even if it’s completely irrelevant) and determining from the client’s communication what your role is and what the client expects from you. Avoid interrupting and asking blatantly, “What is your point?” This comes off aggressively to the client who wishes to spill their guts to you and does not encourage an open and trusting relationship. You should seek further clarification in writing in these situations to ensure you are both aware of the boundaries of the attorney-client relationship.
Why doesn’t this client speak up?
There will be clients who are timid, afraid, overwhelmed or who just don’t know what to say or do. When you have determined the client is unlikely to speak up or freely communicate with you, you should send an agenda in advance and give them time to respond. This gives the client a chance to prepare for upcoming communications and there is a better chance they will have predetermined what to say. Never assume your client’s silence means they have nothing to say; they may not know what they want to say. In these situations, you should blatantly ask for the client’s specific needs and your expected contributions to the attorney-client relationship. You should follow up, in writing to confirm you understand their objectives as it is sometimes difficult to discern what the quietest clients are thinking.
This client so emotional!
This is another client we have all had too many times, the box of emotions that explodes all over your office in a consult. You have to adjust whatever your usual reaction is to a ball of emotion and become impossibly sympathetic; take a deep breath and just listen. You don’t have to necessarily walk on egg shells but you should avoid critiquing, evaluating or looking judgmental while listening. The trick is to focus on the message and not the delivery. And throughout your attorney-client relationship you are going to have to look past the emotion and focus on the problem. Working with emotional clients may be difficult when it comes to the need to critique or criticize. The best way to approach constructive criticism with an overly emotional client is in a positive feedback sandwich: give positive feedback, politely provide the critique or criticism, and then give some more positive feedback. Emotional clients are more likely to respond rationally if you praise them more than you criticize; by sandwiching the criticism between praise the clients emotions become squished, and they are less likely to explode with the communication.
What does this client really want?
Sometimes it is difficult to determine what exactly a client is seeking from your relationship and the clients themselves may not know exactly what they want or need from you either. In this situation you should ask yourself, “What is most important to this client so that I can provide them the result they will value most?” In these cases you should look for cues from the client’s communications. There will generally be two types of clients: feelers and thinkers. While feelers strive for harmony in interactions, thinkers will appear to be testing your knowledge. Feelers want to ensure all parties feel heard, understood and appreciated while thinkers prefer clear outcomes without emotional attachment. Understanding what the client wants is determined by what kind of person that client is; it is important to recognize this situation in order to adapt your reactions accordingly. Remember that while the facts of your clients’ cases may widely differ, you will likely see the same types of clients over and over. If you can recognize your clients personality you will have a better sense of the best way to provide the most valuable results.
Why can’t this client do anything on time?
When you have a client who misses deadlines frequently it can quickly become frustrating and you will likely react accordingly. In order to combat the initial urge to be angry, you should prepare yourself in advance for this type of client. People work at deadlines in different ways; some people will complete the task early, some will inevitably wait until the last minute while some will be consistently late. You should always set deadlines well in advance and follow-up frequently with the clients you know are likely to let the deadline pass. Avoid making last minute modifications and prepare for flexibility. The more flexible you are prepared to be, the better your reactions will be when you must, of course, be flexible.
Once you have learned to tailor your client interactions to the different types of clients, you will generate feelings of trust and respect and ultimately build long-term clientele. The time and effort you put into the attorney-client relationship will grow into a successful career.
How To Earn CLE Credit on this Topic
For additional information on this topic, Attorney Credits offers a course titled “6 Steps to Improved Client Relations & Communication.”
The course is available for CLE credit in the following states: Alaska (AK) | Arizona (AZ) | California (CA) | Colorado (CO) | Connecticut (CT) | District of Columbia (DC) | Florida (FL) | Georgia (GA) | Illinois (IL) | Maryland (MD) | Massachusetts (MA) | Michigan (MI) | Missouri (MO) | Nevada (NV) | New Hampshire (NH) | New Jersey (NJ) | New York (NY) | North Dakota (ND) | Ohio (OH) | Oregon (OR) | Pennsylvania (PA) | South Dakota (SD)