Law Practice Management and Technology
6 Keys to Creating a Positive Relationship with Your Clients
By Mari J. Frank
How important is it for you to have a great relationship with your doctor or your accountant? If you are like me, you probably need to trust and even like the professionals you are paying for services, right? Our clients will assuredly expect us to treat them well and be trustworthy, or we will lose their business—and it will hurt our reputations.
Clients come to us in pain to get problems solved. They are often angry and frustrated too. They are usually in crisis and need more than our legal skills. They need our emotional intelligence to guide them through their conflicts or their other legal needs with patience, understanding, finesse, and professionalism.
Below are six keys to consider every time we meet with clients (and our staff, opposing counsel, and court personnel as well) to create a positive relationship.
II. BE WARM AND WELCOMING
Smile, and be friendly. Even if you are an introvert, it’s time to stretch and evolve your personality, so you can make others feel comfortable. New clients are often apprehensive about sharing their legal and personal problems. Make them feel at ease so they won’t be afraid to open up and be completely truthful with you so you can best understand their case.
III. LISTEN ACTIVELY
This is the most important skill we can develop. We all know how important it is to listen to testimony in depositions and hearings to gather information, but we may be tempted to be distracted when on the phone, on our devices, or in a non-formal in-person conversation.
Listening gives us information and knowledge, which gives us the power to understand and better prepare our cases. We all want to be heard when speaking. When we are assured that someone is listening, it shows caring and respect. The best approach is to repeat what we have heard to check to see if we really get what is being said. Then when we ask clarifying opened ended questions, we learn more and legitimize the speaker. With the various technology conversations, we miss quite a bit of underlying meaning. Picking up the phone instead of sending an email or a text avoids misunderstandings. It’s best to only use text to set an appointment or ask for a phone call. It’s a mistake to try to resolve misunderstandings in an email or text. Pick up the phone or hop on Zoom so you can see each other.
IV. BE RESPECTFUL, NO MATTER WHAT THEY SAY
Everyone wants respect. Although you are the legal advisor and must educate your clients on their rights and obligations under the law, you still need to be mindful of each person’s desire to make his/her own decisions. Respecting others allows everyone to have dignity. We have all met people who are condescending or arrogant and show little respect. We would rather not deal with them. No matter how others may treat us, or our clients, we can take the high road and maintain self-dignity and a respectful tone.
Remember, emotions are energy in motion and they are contagious. So if you have an angry client, focus on your own inner peace so that your serenity will calm down the situation. Remind yourself to breathe slowly when dealing with an angry client. Don’t get defensive no matter what is said. Ask open-ended questions to divert their anger to logical thinking.
V. BE AUTHENTIC
Our adversarial system seems to encourage posturing in litigation and even puffing in negotiations. Yet we have a responsibility to pursue truth, justice, and the American Way. When we are genuine about who we are, what skills we have, what information we have, and what we can or cannot do, we demonstrate authenticity, and in turn, we gain regard from others. If we are not sincere, it will be obvious, and we will not be deemed trustworthy. If you are unsure of an issue, look it up, ask for help from experts, or, if necessary, refer the case to someone in the know.
VI. BE PREPARED MENTALLY, PHYSICALLY, AND EMOTIONALLY
Preparation is the CPR to success in anything we do:
C stands for content. We must prepare as to the content of the law and the facts and have the structure and information about the case.
P stands for procedure. This includes court procedures, technology, timeliness (being on time with clients and others), organization of paperwork and systems, and appointment know-how. It also includes accommodating client needs and arrangements with staff, opposing counsel, and others.
R stands for relationship. Consider and prepare how you will treat others to build a relationship. If you had difficult dealings in the past with your client or others, make time to make amends, forgive, or do whatever is necessary to put the past behind you. An apology is very powerful—it legitimizes feelings. If you are establishing a new relationship, find out all you can about the person before you meet and build a bridge of connection personally before the business relationship starts. If you have had a positive relationship, remind each other of the value of the former cooperation. Set up an environment of positivity.
Mari Frank, Esq. is an advisor to California Lawyers Association's Law Practice Management and Technology Executive Committee. She’s been an attorney-mediator since 1985. She’s a private mediator, serves as a panel member of the Orange County Superior Court Civil Mediation Panel, sits on the Judicial Mediation Committee, mediates fee disputes for the Orange County Bar, and is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Circuit and Family Court Mediation.