The Sweet Spot in Client Relationships
“Like a wolf at midnight howls, you use your voice in the darkest hours To break the silence and the power, holding back the others from their glory”
– Josh Garrels, from the song White Owl
Being a lawyer places us in the center of our clients’ lives in a way that is reserved for few others. Be it health, financial, criminal, business or family issues, the nature of the attorney-client relationship is inherently personal. We may not experience it that way, but our clients tend to and we should follow suit.
When we place the technical knowledge of being a lawyer above the relationship we develop with our clients, not only have we missed an opportunity to play a greater role in our client’s lives, but we miss out at a personal level as well.
There are many aspects of practicing law that get in the way of experiencing the greater potential that lies within serving each client: phone calls and emails to return, briefs and letters to write, fires to put out and whatever challenges we may be experiencing in our personal lives spilling into work hours.
I’m relationship driven. It makes little difference to me whether it’s at a store, restaurant or my dentist’s office; I’m looking for more than what technically brought me to that situation or moment. I want to connect with the people around me and have an elevated experience. I always remember the person or business that created a greater, memorable experience for me, just like I do the places that “did just what they were paid for”.
Because I practice personal injury law, I often hear clients expressing frustration and disappointment about their doctors – “I don’t think they really cared about me” or “They didn’t listen”. No doubt the doctor believes he or she is paying attention to that very patient and does genuinely care. I hear the same complaints from clients and their past experiences with attorneys. Clearly, we could all do better on this front.
By making small changes in how we think about our work and interactions with our clients, our experience – and that of our clients – can easily be elevated to a higher level. When I see the look on a client’s face or hear the sound in their voice that they feel truly understood and valued, I know I’m hitting the relationship sweet spot and provided that deeper experience for both of us.
A job well done means more than doing it “technically” right – it means making sure that we communicate in a meaningful way that tells our client that they are more than their legal problem to us.
Here are some practices I use in fostering a deeper experience and relationship with my clients:
1. No matter how busy I am, I practice slowing down to listen and pay attention to my client. Everything they have to say may not be relevant to what I really need to know, but it’s important to them so I make it important to me.
2. I focus on the client that’s in front of me, setting aside my emails and to do list. It’s scary how easily I can get distracted. Sometimes I have to turn off my monitor while meeting with a client or close my eyes when talking on the phone in order to fully focus.
3. Checking for understanding is another way to ensure my client feels heard and cared for. I ask them if I have answered their questions. I never ask “Does that make sense?” I ask, “Am I explaining myself very well?”
4. Clients are people with all the same vulnerabilities and challenges we each have in our daily lives. Some days a client has a harder time understanding what I’m saying and I need to be sympathetic to that fact.
The practice of law is filled with daily opportunities to be a part of a dynamic and positive life experience for both our clients and us. We hold the keys to the practice of law being professionally and personally rewarding beyond the outward trappings of what success is often defined as.
When I’m asked the question – Do you like being a lawyer? My answer is no. I love it. Not just because I help solve my client’s legal problems, but also because I elevate my professional and life experiences through the relationships I develop and cultivate with my clients.
How do you ensure your client experience is more than the legal issue that brought them to your office? Is their experience equally important in its own right?