Everyone wants to feel valued, respected, and trusted by their clients. These are some of the rewards that make practicing law worthwhile. And if you’re giving your best to your clients, you probably will feel these things.
But as long as you’re going for relational gold, why not set your sights on the big one. That’s right, you should think about wanting your clients to not just like but LOVE interacting with you and your firm.
Before I go on, let me just say that it’s important to frequently and deliberately remind yourself that you need to foster healthy attorney-client relationships which means understanding proper boundaries. Your role is less friend than helper, and there is a proper emotional distance you need to keep so that you can assist your clients without taking on responsibility for why their legal issue exists.
That being said, here’s your starter-list of to-do items that might just cause your clients to love interacting with you:
1. Be clear Helping your clients have a clear understanding of their legal situation does not necessarily require you to give them an academic education on the nuances of the relevant statutes or case law.
You want to give them enough information so that they can sufficiently understand what is going on and what needs to happen, but not so much that they’ll be confused.
Save the jargon and legalese for your dealings with other attorneys and be concise when explaining your plan for helping them. Anticipate their questions, keep your answers focused, and be candid.
2. Keep them updated Sometimes lawyers need to be reminded that non-lawyers often don’t understand legal procedure. YOU understand it, but they don’t. Not only are you ethically required to communicate, staying ahead of their check-ins so they know their case is on your radar will bring them much peace of mind.
If their case includes factors that severely up the stakes (like potential jail time or losing custody of their children) you’ll really need to make sure you’re keeping them advised about what’s going on.
Some legal cases involve months of waiting between deadlines and appearances, but if you don’t keep them assured that you’re patiently waiting for the wheels to turn, they may think you’re just dragging your feet.
3. Educate them This is related to keeping them updated, but different. For clients, one of the most frustrating and even terrifying parts of the legal process is feeling like they’re in the dark, that they’re involved in some mysterious system in which others have all the power and control.
Your job is to shine the light by not just explaining their legal problem, but all the variables in play. Once you agree on what resolution you’re going for, tell them how you plan to get there. Basically, show your math.
By educating them you’re making them feel like they’re part of the team. And if things don’t go your way, as they sometimes don’t, you won’t sound like you’re just making excuses. You will have made a team effort.
4. Be available I googled “I can’t get ahold of my” and, no surprise, “attorney” came up as one of the top autofill suggestion. Of course attorneys are busy people, and some clients demand frequent updates when there’s nothing to report.
But make sure you’re not avoiding your clients out of simple procrastination or an aversion to dealing with them. Answer their calls, texts, and emails, or make sure your assistant is doing so.
If you’ve kept them updated on their case and have clearly explained their legal situation (see # 1 and #2), you can keep these “extra” contact events short and easy. A brief response can do a lot toward putting your client’s mind at ease.
5. Communicate with your client in a way that works for you AND them Phone calls, check. Email, obviously. Texting, uh.
I know that many attorneys are opposed to texting with their clients. Or if they’re not opposed, they have concerns—about privacy, boundaries, encryption, etc.
Well, the good news is none of those things have to be concerns any longer because technology has caught up and there are solutions out there (including the monikur messaging app that you can find out more about right on this website).
Times are changing and consumers want to text with businesses. The younger your client, the more likely this is the case. You may not be ready to take the texting plunge, but don’t expect this trend to change any time soon.
6. Be kind Remember, your client’s legal problem may be the biggest, most stressful thing on their mind. To your clients, you are the answer to their anxiety.
So show them kindness, and make sure you don’t take their anxiety and questions as a personal statement against you. Avoiding becoming defensive will make it easier to be empathetic toward their situation.
Even taking a moment before a meeting or phone call to “put on” your kindness in the face of feeling overworked, stressed, or distracted can make a big difference. Put yourself in their shoes. Let them know that you care about them, not just as cases, but as a people.
7. Always give them a solution Sometimes client meetings will devolve into your client blaming their ex, their adversaries, the opposing counsel, the judge, and hoping you’ll spend time in that catharsis with them. Resist that temptation.
Your job is to be the level head, the steady hand in the relationship. That is what your clients truly need and want most. When things go wrong, you need to bring your client back to what can be done about it.
More than commiseration, and more than a low fee, what will give your clients the most comfort and peace of mind is a path toward resolution that they can pursue.
8. Be patient When you accept the responsibility to help a client resolve their problem, you are also accepting the responsibility to be patient and empathetic.
If your clients perceive that you are impatient with them, they will be afraid to ask you questions. They might feel dumb, or that they are a burden to you, and they will certainly not love interacting with you.
There will be clients who will test the limits of your patience, but reacting with irritation or annoyance is a habit that can be changed. Patience is a trait that can be practiced and nurtured.
If you can act patient, by slowing your breath, listening, and tuning in to the needs of your clients, you will begin to feel patient.
Bottom line, a client who loves you as their lawyer will be more enjoyable to work with, will be happier to pay your bill, and will enthusiastically endorse you to potential clients.