Why some clients think their attorney is a cold bastard

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Listening is one of the most important skills for an attorney. Too often, an attorney will hear what the client or other person said, decide they understand their point, and immediately start formulating their response.

They may be right in their assessment, but one of the most important parts of listening is showing the other person you are.

When a client thinks you’re not listening, they think you don’t care about them or their case, or you’re not good at your job. Either way, they think less of you.

Effective listening isn’t passive listening, however. Just being quiet isn’t enough. The client needs to know that you not only hear them, you understand them.

A few Do’s and Don’ts.

  • DON’T do other things during the conversation (other than taking notes). If you can’t give the other person your undivided attention, because you’re late for a meeting, for example, explain this and re-schedule.
  • DO make eye contact. Nothing says “I don’t care about you” more than avoiding the other person’s gaze. (I’ve seen professionals do this more than once; it’s unnerving).
  • Ask questions, to clarify and amplify what happened, what they think about it, and what they want.
  • Acknowledge and validate their feelings, based on what they say and how they appear. “I can see you’re frustrated/angry. . .”, “I can see why that would be a problem. . .” , “I’d feel the same way if I were in your shoes”.
  • Repeat it back to them. A great way to clarify what they’re saying is to repeat it. “What you’re saying is. . . right?” “Let me make sure I understand what happened. . .”, “So you want your investment back and a public apology, right?”
  • “Is there anything else?” Don’t assume they’ve told you everything. Continue to prompt them to tell you more, until there’s nothing left to tell.

Yeah, I know, some of this is just good lawyering skills, but it doesn’t hurt to have a refresher.

It also doesn’t hurt to hear how you sound from the client’s perspective, so record the conversation and play it back, latter, over a stiff drink.

If you have the client’s permission, play the recording for someone you trust to give you an honest assessment of your listening skills.

Something else:

It’s also important to show people you’re listening when you reply to their email, letter, or text. But that’s a subject for another day.

Good client relations leads to repeat business and referrals

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