Being nice has its benefits, especially when practicing in rural areas. One way to view “being nice” is to be humble in your professional and private life, which fellow Lawyerist contributor, Kevin Houchin, recently discussed. Whether you call it being nice or being humble, if being able to look in the mirror and know that you aren’t a jackwagon isn’t enough of a reason, being nice with potential clients and members of the legal community will help grow your practice.
1. When dealing with potential clients
I read a blog post this month from Solo Practice University about less than stellar treatment at a big box store. Basically, it involved a combination of a trip to the store, winter attire, recovering from oral surgery and a misunderstanding about the price of a box of cereal. While a major take away is the importance of looking your best, the point that hit home with me was to treat everyone with respect. You never know if the haggard mom running around in pj’s and glasses may be a major source of business. This lesson is even more important for rural practioners.
High value clients don’t walk around wearing post-its with potential legal claims or values of their estate. This is true anywhere, but the potential impact of your actions can be greater in rural areas. The guy in front of you in field clothes at the grocery store who’s driving you crazy because he insists on paying by check might be looking for a lawyer to help him transfer acres of real estate. The added issue for rural practioners is that it’s very likely that he might know you or at least know that you’re one of the attorneys in town. Keep that in mind when your patience is wearing thin. Your eye roll or audible sigh will make him take his legal business elsewhere. Clients want to know they can feel comfortable with their counselor. Arrogance and impatience will kill that feeling.
Another thing to consider is that word of mouth can spread like wild fire in a small town. If someone thinks you’re arrogant, you can bet that when the topic of lawyers come up, they’ll share that opinion, further impacting your potential client base. Besides losing that one potential client, your moment of impatience might have turned off a whole group of people in your community.
Conversely, your helpfulness at the gas station or friendly chat at t-ball will attract clients. There’s no better advertising for a lawyer than having your neighbors know you’re friendly and helpful. As potential clients view you as friendly and helpful, they may be sharing their view with their friends and family. Besides the non-tangible benefits of being a nice person, you are also marketing yourself to potential clients.
2. When dealing with the legal community
Not only does being nice have benefits for marketing to potential clients, but being nice to members of the legal community can help your practice. Again, this is true for any attorney, but particularly for attorneys in rural areas.
Small legal communities mean that you will routinely work with the same court staff, secretaries, paralegals, and attorneys. If you act like you’re better than court staff because you have a JD behind your name, you shouldn’t expect them to go out of their way to help you. If your attitude towards other attorneys is always adversarial, you will be treated in kind. This doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat or fold on your client’s position, but it does mean that you treat collegues with respect.
Again, the converse is true. If you treat members of the legal community with respect, your practice will be more rewarding. If you have a good relationship with court staff, they’ll be more likely to guide you through the filing technicalities of a probate or point you to a public file that has just the obscure motion you need to draft. If you have a good relationship with other attorneys, they’ll cut you a break if you need an extension, may be more willing to work with you on a settlement, or refer potential clients that they can’t take because of a conflict.
Being nice is beneficial to your practice. When you’re ready to lose your cool, as we all can be prone to do from time to time, take a breath. Remember that your ability or failure to treat people with respect will have an effect on your practice, especially if your practice is in a rural area.