Law school can train you to think like a lawyer, write like a lawyer, and talk like a lawyer. Although law schools are making an effort to help students acquire practical experience during law school, many law students have no idea how to interact with a client.
Developing strong client relationships is critical to success as a lawyer. Make sure you are on the same page as your client.
Why it matters
Knowing your clients means you can achieve the results that they want. It sounds simple, but listening to what your clients want is critical. Clients want a solution to their problem, but every client has different goals. Some clients want a monetary solution, others want something else. Success is measured by achieving your client’s goals—not achieving whatever goals you set for a case.
Maybe you can see a big payday if you pursue months of litigation, or found a reason to get back at opposing counsel. Your professional responsibility, however, is to act in your client’s best interest, not your own.
I recently got a $22,000+ lawsuit dismissed against one of my clients. They were understandably thrilled at the result. The client also said that even if things had not turned out so well, they still would have been glad that they hired me—because they liked working with me. That’s not a license to screw up, but it shows that forming a relationship creates a level of trust that makes a huge difference.
How to cultivate strong relationships
Part of it is natural—are you the kind of person that can talk to anyone about anything? I like the sound of silence, but I can also sit down and talk to almost anyone about anything. Mostly, I can create smalltalk because unlike many attorneys, I actually listen. When you listen to your clients, you find out what is important to them and how to connect on a deeper level.
When you are meeting a client, get to know the client, not just what facts are relevant to the case. You don’t have to ask about their hobbies, but listening will help you clue in on things that are important to them. Do they always talk about their dog/the Vikings/their new baby? Ask them about those things and you will get to know them as a person, not just as your client. That should foster more trust, which leads to a more satisfied client.
I spoke with a client today who compared me to another lawyer and the client said “you know, it’s easier talking to you, because you actually have a personality.” That’s probably because I ask about his grandchildren, his recent vacation, and the trials and tribulations of being a parent. It’s not rocket science. You don’t need to become best friends with your clients—but make an effort to get to know them.
Some people have the gift of gab and can naturally become buddy-buddy after five minutes of conversation. Even if you don’t have that gift, however, making a conscious effort to get to know your clients will pay dividends.