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Client Relations

How to Show Your Client You Don’t Really Care

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Sure, it is no more important to show gratitude for a client on Valentine’s Day than any other day of the year. But, confronted with mountains of heart-shaped boxes and an avalanche of sweetheart sales, it’s only natural for some to ponder, “Who loves ya, baby?” I’m not talking about romantic love — with secret notes, pounding hearts and fluttering eyelashes. I’m simply saying Valentine’s serves as an annual reminder that good feelings between you and your client are essential to keeping your practice profitable.

Count the Ways: A Sweet Reminder

Unfortunately, if you’re human, instead of always expressing gratitude or respect, at times you may be doing the exact opposite. Here’s a reminder of the simple little things you can do to send your client the message, “Go away!”

1. Answer your smartphone while meeting with her. Taking your attention away from the client in the room to speak with someone far away (or worse, check a text) sends the message that the one in the room is not nearly as important as the one on the line — and that you hesitate not the slightest to consume her valuable time to carry on other business. Just turn the ringer off when you’re with a client. If you forget and it rings, don’t answer it — turn it off! (Consider this: Ignoring your ringing phone while in your client’s company is a clear signal that nothing could be more important than her.)

2. Come late to a client meeting. As with the phone, the more of my time you waste, the more I see that I’m a minor player in your life. Never make a client wait in the conference room, your reception area, in a restaurant or on the street. Of course, you can’t always be perfectly on time. But in your absence, a colleague or assistant should be there to express your dismay and manage expectations.

3. Make him leave several phone messages (or emails) before you respond. Set a standard in your law office and hold to it. Many use the 24-hour rule, but surely you can do better than respond to a message within 24 hours? Especially when that doesn’t mean you have to be the one to get back to a client. Enlist the help of your assistant to respond with information about your availability and when you will call. It’s simple politeness, really.

4. Treat deadlines like rough estimates. Under-promise and over-deliver is the best rule of thumb here. If you say those papers will be ready on Thursday, make it at least Thursday morning. But Wednesday would be even better. It’s a habit we all slip into: Wanting to please people up-front with how quickly you say the job will get done, and then failing over and over again to do what you’ve said. It’s far better to cite a realistic deadline and challenge yourself to surpass it. Your client’s happy surprise will make it worth the trouble. (And it’s so much better than grumpy disappointment!)

5. Fail to show empathy. People hire lawyers to advocate for them — sit on the same side of the table. Hold your adversarial chops at bay until your next day in court and bring out your ability to understand what works and doesn’t work for your client. That doesn’t mean you should sugarcoat the truth or keep bad news to yourself. Quite the reverse! If you find yourself trying to prove your client wrong or battling with her about what she can and cannot do, take a deep breath and start again — with the resolve to do whatever you can ethically to help your client.

From the Heart

So, in essence, if you want your clients to know that you are grateful for their business and you care for their outcomes, bear the following guidance in mind:

  • Communicate well and often.
  • Listen, listen, listen.
  • Behave as if it were your problem.
  • Value their time as you would your own.
  • Learn about your client’s business or family.
  • Avoid legal jargon unless your client is a lawyer.
  • Be honest.
  • Be discrete.
  • Be sensitive.
  • Take a positive approach.
  • Manage expectations.
  • Confront instead of avoiding problems.
  • Say thank you!

Illustration ©

Categories: Attorney Client Relations, Communications Skills, Daily Dispatch, Relationships
Originally published February 12, 2016
Last updated September 30, 2019
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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. Learn more about Merrilyn here and follow her @astintarlton.

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