You may have been told something like this: “You’re not like other lawyers I know.” They mean it as a compliment, an acknowledgment that you are a bit less stuffy than other lawyers. A bit more down to earth.
If you haven’t heard it before, here are some tips for displaying your human side while still maintaining your professionalism.
Communicate Like a Human
I answer my own phone and respond to all emails, voicemails, and texts within one business day. Now, I’m not in court much, and I understand this approach might not work for everyone, but it works for my clients and me.
Being their first point of contact is helpful to me because I learn everything I need to know about whether it’s a case I can handle, what the issues are, and what’s next. And it’s proven beneficial to clients because they have already established a rapport with me, know it’s easy to get in touch with me when they need something, and feel comfortable moving on to the next phase.
Lead With Your Human Side, Not Your Lawyer Side
It’s worth remembering that a majority of clients who call lawyers have never had to make that call before. Maybe they have preconceived notions of what talking to a lawyer will be like – professional, detached, expensive – but you don’t have to feed into that.
If they’re calling about divorce or probate, tell them you are sorry that that’s the reason for the call. If you’ve been through a similar experience, relate your story. When they ask questions—about how long something will take or how expensive it will be—answer them as honestly as you can. Do everything you can to defuse their nervousness.
Treat Others Like You Would Want to Be Treated
A great benefit of being a solo or small firm lawyer is that you can experience a real connection to a client. I remember when a friend of mine contacted a big firm, seeking a divorce lawyer. She filled out their intake form, communicated a few times with one lawyer, and then got assigned to a different lawyer—one who started asking her all the same questions. She felt like a commodity, not a valued client. So, ask yourself how you would want to be treated if you were the client. Hold their hand as necessary. Keep them informed on the status of their case.
To that same end, treat your colleagues professionally. It would take too long to count the number of times I’ve been screamed at, not by clients, but by opposing counsel. Sure, we’re on opposite sides, but that doesn’t mean we can’t treat each other with civility and professionalism.
Spend Time Networking with Non-Lawyers
I had spent a lot of time networking before I realized why I didn’t enjoy it, and why I was never getting business: I was only networking with other lawyers, and often lawyers who handled the same kind of cases I handle.
Once I changed my tune and joined a networking group with realtors and financial advisors and plumbers, something interesting happened; I stopped talking solely about the law and clients when networking, and I learned how to explain my business to non-lawyers. That meant far less legal jargon, in some circumstances less arrogance, and a far more pedestrian approach to what I do. It’s gotten me more in touch with how others perceive my business, which has helped me relate my message better to professionals and clients.
Sure, it’s important that we maintain an air of professionalism, especially when our clients are going through trying emotional times. But that doesn’t mean we can’t also be human, that we can’t relate to clients and show them, and the profession, our human side. It might just be good for business.