Soft Skills
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Happier Clients

Use Soft Skills to Become In-House Clients’ Favorite

By Susan Kostal

Some of the most well-attended legal marketing panels feature in-house counsel sharing their likes and dislikes. If you’ve gone to more than one, you’ve probably already internalized these maxims:

  • Understand my products and business
  • Communicate matter and budget surprises ASAP
  • Bill promptly
  • Provide customized CLE
  • Assure me your data systems are secure

Fine. But that’s just the starter kit.

A recent panel presented by the Bay Area Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association highlighted softer people skills that build and cement strong client relationships. Here are top in-house counsels’ “asks,” in no particular order.

1. Know what keeps me up at night. 

You provide employment counseling and litigation, but your client is embroiled in a complicated contract dispute that could end a relationship with a valued corporate partner. You need to respond compassionately and offer professional and emotional support because right now their headache runs 24/7. Know your client’s pain points.

2. Understand my private life. 

Does your client have kids? If so, dinner invitations and tickets to the ball game or symphony may not be accepted. However, they may be happy to go to lunch and even happier if you can refer them to resources that will make their lives easier — whether it’s math tutors, hockey leagues, baby sitters or professional organizers. Be a true value-add to their lives.

3. Understand how I work. 

Traditional companies have offices, landlines, conference rooms and yards of filing cabinets. Newer companies, particularly tech companies, have abandoned that model entirely. Many in-house counsel work in offices with open floor plans with no doors or private offices. They have no desk phones, only smartphones. And they operate almost entirely with onscreen PDFs, rather than paper. “I don’t even know where to go to recycle paper at my company,” said one chief legal officer. Meetings are 30 minutes or less, and it takes longer to find a conference room than it does to draft the agenda.

Additionally, most in-house counsel are in reactive mode most of the day; there is very little time to be proactive. Some are booked solid with meetings and don’t even get to email until the evening. Learn the pace of your client’s work life and respond accordingly. Think ahead for them.

4. Give me information in the manner I prefer and can easily digest. 

This is a matter of preference, and it’s so easy to please your client. Do they want only soft copy materials? Or do they like to work with hard copies that they can mark up, write notes on and highlight with tabs?

Send emails with the advice or conclusion up front, supported by bulleted points below. Make the subject line as informative as possible. Some forward-thinking companies try to limit email, preferring to use cloud-based collaboration tools such as Slack and HipChat.

Are client alerts helpful? Yes. Don’t include a lengthy memo unless the client asks for one. But be prepared to provide quick in-depth information should the need arise.

5. Have a sense of humor. 

The days are too long and lives are too short not to inject humor to lighten the load. No one should be an automaton cranking out legal advice. Relate to your clients as people, not revenue streams.

Happier clients mean happier lawyers. Spread the love.

Categories: Attorney Client Relations, Client Service, Communications Skills
Originally published June 20, 2016
Last updated February 5, 2023
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Susan Kostal Susan Kostal

Trends at Work columnist Susan Kostal is a legal affairs PR, marketing and content strategy consultant. She is a former contributing editor for Attorney at Work and previously wrote a monthly column, Content Under Pressure. Susan has covered legal affairs as a journalist for nearly three decades. You can follow her on Twitter @skostal and view more of her content at

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