Last month, Steve Lehto wrote an article for Legal Ink explaining The Six Things Attorneys Really Wish Their Clients Knew. It is a wonderful article that should be turned into a handout and become required reading for all people who walk into a law firm to hire an attorney. In fact, managing your clients’ expectations from the outset of your representation is one of the best things you can do to keep your sanity as well as represent your clients fully.
Now, I want to reverse this to help you become a great Rainmaker. Here are the seven things clients wish their attorneys knew:
1. They want to know that you understand and can solve their problems.
Gone are the days of the general practitioner. The laws are too convoluted and extensive for you to understand every single legal issue that exists. You need to concentrate your practice in an area of law and build up “wins”. When you do this, you can market yourself and become well known as someone who has expertise in this area. Create a niche for yourself and then market yourself constantly and consistently.
2. They want to know that you are listening to them.
Hearing someone is simply the passive act of having sound waves that cause vibrations move through the ear canal which is then carried to the auditory nerves and are interpreted by our brain as sounds and words. If you do not have a hearing problem, this happens automatically.
Listening, on the other hand, is an active act. It means voluntarily paying attention to what the other person is saying so that you understand them. However, it’s more than just the words. Listening is being able to interpret the moods and the emotions of the person speaking so that they are truly understood.
We have a tendency just to hear others and wait for the right opportunity to respond in a way that may not be what the other person needs to hear. When you really listen to a client, you may find other solutions than the one that you are conditioned to respond with.
3. They want you to be responsive
One of the most cited reasons that a client leaves his or her attorney is because of “failure to communicate”. The Model Rules of Professional Responsibility (Rule 1.4) actually requires you to:
(3) keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter; <and>
(4) promptly comply with reasonable requests for information;
A question that I am frequently asked by attorneys is how to deal with clients who contact them too frequently. Please understand that in the client’s mind they are not contacting you too much (unless you are not responding). If you have nothing new to tell them, explain that the court system moves slowly and as soon as you have any news you will get in touch. This may not curb the number of times they reach out to you, but at least you are communicating. In addition, as mentioned above, managing your clients’ expectations from the beginning by explaining to them that you will contact them when there is actual information to provide will be helpful in avoiding clients who contact you constantly – it may not stop it completely, but it can be helpful.
4. They want you to communicate with them clearly
To go along with being responsive, clients want to understand what you are saying. Please stop using “legalese” and outmoded Latin terms with your clients. Instead, please explain everything in clear English – whether written or oral.
5. They want to be billed fairly
Nobody likes to be “nickeled and dimed”. Clients would be very happy to pay your bills if they actually felt like they are getting value from what you are doing. And they don’t want to pay for things like paperclips or copies when you can avoid doing this. When you give your bill to a client, make sure that the work you have done is clearly explained. Also, there are times when you spend less than 6/10ths of an hour on sending a quick email to them – they don’t need to be billed for it.
6. They want to know that you respect them
Treat your clients with respect – not just because they pay their bills, but because they deserve it. They came to you because they respect that you know what you are doing as an attorney. Treating them with respect means not talking down to them. It means being able to listen to what they are saying if they have an idea for their own defense and then clearly explaining why it may or may not work. It means treating them as if they are just as smart as you.
But most importantly:
7. Clients want peace of mind
Nobody ever wakes up in the morning and says, “I guess I’ll hire a lawyer today.”
You are being hired because your client has an issue with which only you, as an attorney, can help. It is usually an issue which keeps them up at night, worrying. Develop empathy. Use your listening skills to determine what is making them worry and then find a way to alleviate that concern in the best way possible.
As Mr. Lehto said in his conclusion:
“Attorneys are people doing a job. . . . But remember: We’re not the ones getting you sued or arrested. We’re the ones who come along later to help you navigate the <legal> system.”
And while this is true, your clients are the reason you do what you do. Start seeing things from their point of view and referrals will just be one of the ways you are rewarded.