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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

December 15, 2019

What Clients Want.

Julie Q. Brush

“What do you call a lawyer at the bottom of a lake…..?”

Whether you’re inside or outside counsel, clients from around the globe have their distinct opinions about lawyers. Personal experiences shape their views, which range from intense loathing to savior – with a large constituency landing somewhere closer to the castor oil end of the spectrum. Many moons ago, these one star ratings were more often tolerated, but in today’s cutthroat legal profession, a subpar client experience simply won’t fly. Competition is stiff and the days of lifelong client loyalty are loooong gone. So the margin for error is razor thin…which means the quality in which a lawyer services his/her clients will greatly impact a career.

While the tenets of great service may seem rudimentary, continued client frustrations demonstrate that increased attentiveness and improvement are still required. A recent flurry of conversations I had with corporate executives, General Counsel and a handful of Average Joes made it clear that lawyers are still dropping the ball: Important feedback for lawyers young and seasoned alike who strive for success.

So what exactly do clients want?

To begin, let’s take a closer look at this group. Clients are a tough crowd. They are busy, focused and driven to an outcome that will benefit them. They can be impatient, want results quickly and won’t tolerate being ignored. They expect a lot from their legal eagles and really don’t care much that Counsel has a host of other internal and/or external clients to love as well. They always want to come first. In some if not all situations, they bring a healthy amount of emotion to the equation, which adds a layer of complexity to a lawyer’s role as trusted advisor.

When tapped about their views, the most common gripes, wants and needs…coming straight from the horses mouths are summarized (and written in first person) below:

EQ Baby.

I need you to get me. Get my needs. Read the room. Manage your emotions/actions when dealing with me. Understand people dynamics… and effectively represent and advise me accordingly. A low EQ will draw fouls with me in a myriad of ways, shapes and forms. If you can’t get it, I’ll tap someone who will.

Lawyer Whisperer Note: EQ is perhaps the most important skill a professional can possess – and is a key ingredient to career success. For those unfamiliar with Emotional Intelligence or “EQ”, scientists and theorists comprise EQ into 5 categories:  (1) Self-awareness, (2) Self-regulation, (3) Motivation, (4) Empathy, and (5) Social skills. Some experts believe you can’t teach EQ – that it is a natural talent. Others believe you can if the desire and motivation are there. What do you think?

Don’t Nickel and Dime.

As an in house legal executive working with outside counsel, I do not want to be nickeled and dimed. A 3 minute charge for answering an email question? Seriously? Understand the big picture of our relationship and possess the judgement to know when to stop the clock on the little things. If you do, you’ll make up those little piddly charges 10-fold in more projects. Promise.

Make A Call.

To be or not to be, that is the question…….

Lawyers by nature are analyzers, ruminators and pontificators. They are also risk averse. This can result in a very nice presentation involving two hands, but it can be void of an opinion with conviction. While we value knowing all the facts, as our advisors we want you to make a call and provide your recommendation. We may not take it, but we want to know what you stand for and whether you have the guts to tell us. We’ll respect you more if you do.

Be Responsive.

Call us back. Please. Respond to our emails promptly. Pretty Please. Even if you are busy and cannot provide a thoughtful response until the end of day/next day/next week/next month, shoot us a quick message to let us know. If you’re too slammed, empower your assistant or a colleague to respond on your behalf. We will only have so much patience for poor response time before we call your competitor in the building next door or lodge a complaint with the powers that be in the corporate organization. And if you can deliver? Big time career kudos for you.

Don’t Treat Me Like The Enemy.

I have responsibilities with pressures of my own. I need a partner who can help me achieve my goals as painlessly as possible. Will there be times when I will challenge you? Yes. Be difficult? Sure. Be unreasonable? Never. (no client ever believes s/he is unreasonable! 🙂 ) Be demanding? Yup. Manage the dynamic successfully when there is friction and don’t be combative or argue with me. I am not your enemy. I am not opposing counsel. I am your client.

Be Succinct.

Time is money and we don’t like wasting either of them. We don’t have the time or patience for a convoluted, overly complex explanation of the issues or proposed solutions. Don’t blather on either. Our calendars are overscheduled with little-to-no time between commitments. It takes more time to be succinct, so put in the effort to do so.

Write well.

Poorly/Carelessly written correspondence with typos, grammatical errors and lack of clear, concise communication. When we see this, we lose a little more faith in you each time. Proofread your written work and make sure that it’s something that at the very least, would make your 8th grade English teacher proud.

Lawyer Whisperer Note: The art of the written word has taken a beating over the years. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Email have created the new world of clipped communication. Given how busy we all are and the mediums at our disposal, it’s easy to take the easy route of fast and loose with how we express ourselves. Don’t fall prey to this temptation. The well written word is still a critical component to happy clients and career success!

Speak in plain language.

When communicating with me, plain and simple language works best because it’s easier to understand. So please lose the legalese gobbledygook. I’m not impressed.

Be Prepared.

This motto isn’t just for the Boy Scouts. If we have a call or meeting scheduled to discuss my important issues, do your homework, have an agenda and be engaged. Anticipate what questions might arise and be prepared to address them. Don’t wing it or try to formulate your thoughts real time. It won’t be your best work and I’ll notice.

Be a Business Partner Not a Hall Monitor.

There are so many demands in today’s professional environment to “push business forward”. I need a lawyer who can see the big picture and help me do just that. I don’t want a path to “no”. I want solutions, creative thinking and a solid plan for “yes”.

The secret sauce to career success in the legal profession begins…and ends with the very best client service. While no two clients are alike, there are commonalities with what this constituency wants and needs from their lawyers. The lawyers who take heed will secure a competitive advantage in this game of Corporate Survivor and differentiate themselves from the legal pack.

So as you take inventory of your career strategy for 2020, reread the list above and place client service at the forefront of your daily practice.  By doing so, you’ll not only maximize your opportunity for career success, but you’ll be a better lawyer to boot.

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