Making your client feel like a person instead of a paycheck

May 29, 2013

NetworkingIn the past two weeks, our posts in this series have covered both managing client expectations and effectively breaking bad news to clients to ensure that your clients are left with the best possible impression of your skills as a lawyer.

The point of having your clients view you as favorably as possible, even in spite of a terrible court defeat, is for garnering more referrals.

There’s a lot more to creating a positive experience than just these two factors.

As an end of the month wrap-up, this final post in our series will briefly cover those remaining issues to provide you with a more complete picture of what you can do to maximize your client referrals.

Doing this means more than preparing your clients to hear bad news; it means building a great relationship with them.

In other words, don’t view the relationship with your client as one in which you are simply providing a legal service.

True, you certainly are providing a legal service, but your client will not view the situation with quite as much sterility.  As mentioned several weeks ago, your clients often trust you with problems that are very sensitive and private – problems that they may not discuss with their friends and family.

To them, it’s not simply a matter of business; it’s a deeply personal topic – often the most pressing problem that they are facing.

This does not mean that you should become as emotionally invested as your clients in their affairs.  As I mentioned last month, doing so causes you to lose objectivity and will actually hinder your performance as an attorney.

What you should do, though, is treat them with the same levels of sensitivity and urgency that your clients would.

Distinguishing between this and becoming emotionally invested can seem confusing.  But it’s actually simpler than it seems.

All it means is making sure that your client knows that you are taking the case very seriously, and that you are more interested in securing a favorable outcome for him or her than in just getting your paycheck.

You can accomplish this by doing several simple things.

First, always return client communications (phone calls, emails, text messages, etc) as soon as possible.  Yes, the professional “norm” is 24 hours, but how would it make your client feel that you waited 24 hours before returning a call on an issue that is all but consuming his or her life?

Sometimes you may not be able to get back to the client any sooner than 24 hours later (or sometime around then), but if that happens, make sure that you apologize and offer some kind of explanation for why it took you so long to return his or her call.

Also, even if you have no new information to provide, you should still return the call and tell your client that (and that you will let him or her know as soon as you have some).

Taking the time to return your clients’ communications as quickly as possible is something relatively minor that you can do to make your clients feel that you are making them and their respective issues a priority.

There is another, more obvious way to do this that many attorneys neglect: talking through your clients’ concerns and desires with them.

This isn’t just asking your clients what they hope to achieve in retaining you, but why – what are their underlying questions or concerns with the legal process.

Understanding where your clients are coming from will, as stated above, make them feel that their issues and problems are important to you.  But it will also allow you to better represent their interests if you understand your clients’ feelings and motivations, rather than just the facts alone.

That pretty well sums up how to best view your client relationships: not as a sterile set of facts and legal principles, but as a human problem with human emotions and human desires.  Act according to this view.

Doing so will leave your clients with the best possible impression of you and make them very likely to refer you to their friends and family.