• Blog, Legal Practice Management, Marketing

    Posted on March 2nd, 2012

    Written by Bryan


    “Don’t give your clients answers, any lawyer fresh from law school can do that. Instead, help your clients to ask the right questions, this is the value a great attorney provides.”
    Mike Becker, Becker & Lilly, LLC.

    I was fortunate to work with Mike as my mentor in the Ohio Supreme Court new lawyer mentoring program. He is highly ethical, a smart businessman, and a brilliant legal mind. We have remained friends, and we still meet on a regular basis to discuss the legal profession, politics, and family life. Today, among other gems, he shared the above insight with me, and it rang out as something that I needed to record, think about, and share with my friends.

    It often feels like clients just want answers, and I get questions that end in, “that’s why I called my attorney, just tell me what to do.” The clients are frequently less than completely satisfied when my answer is hedged with multiple possibilities, probabilities, and a call to action that makes them decide which path to take. While this is never going to change for what Mike called “commodity work” which is the common issues our clients deal with that get in the way of running their business, or otherwise cost them money without any clear return. Lots of legal work is commoditized, but it is much harder to turn our ability to issue spot into a commodity. If you think about it this, is what we did on law school exams. “Issue spotting” is really learning to ask the right question given a set of facts. Professors frequently gave points for spotting the issues, separate from our ability to properly answer the question, just spotting the right issue could be enough to pass the exam.

    In order to ask the right question, we must, first, listen to our client, second, observe the facts and evidence, third, take time to consider the facts, and, fourth, frame the question in terms of value to the client.

    Listen. An often overlooked skill of lawyers is simply shutting our mouths and listening. There are many situations where this is important, including client meetings, settlement negotiations, and certainly court hearings. As my wife will gladly testify, we lawyers hear things differently than other people. We pick up on a different level of the conversation, and find fact patterns that would otherwise go unnoticed. If you do nothing else to help your practice, learn to listen to your clients. You can also create opportunities to listen to your clients by offering to buy them lunch, meet them for coffee, or just observe their operation. Everyone loves a good listener, and our clients love to see us when they aren’t being billed for the time.

    Observe. Combine what you hear with what you see and can collect. Look over documents, photos, and other evidence more than once and do so after listening to your client.

    Consider. Take time to consider what you have heard and observed. Consciously combine these with your knowledge and resources. Research similar matters, refresh your memory of prior issues you have dealt with, ask other attorneys for their opinion.

    Question. Finally, frame your questions for the client based one everything you have heard, observed, and considered. Be careful to frame the question in terms of why there is value for the client. For instance, don’t ask your client “May I draft an expensive trust for you?” Instead, try, “Are you concerned about how your money will be spent after your death?”

    Your clients know very little about the breadth of services you can provide. So, help your clients ask the right questions and you are helping the client, providing a great value they cannot get anywhere else, and growing your business.

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    This entry was posted on Friday, March 2nd, 2012 at 4:01 pm and is filed under Blog, Legal Practice Management, Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

    Take a look at some of the responses we have had to this article.

    1. Mar 2nd

      This is a great way to combat the LegalZoom’s of the world. There are still some things that just require a human touch, and particularly one with a legal education.

      How do you think a lawyer could market this benefit to potential clients?

    2. Mar 2nd

      Love this article, and love Brad’s comment, ending in a thoughtful question. I’d like to use this information to benefit our veterinary practice.

    3. Lori
      Mar 5th

      Terrific points, Bryan. Listening and questioning are undervalued skills in modern society’s emphasis on instantaneous problem-sovling. Often a lengthy conversation and thoughtful consideration is needed to determine what is the best course of action.

    4. Mar 5th

      I am sure this was preaching the choir, but I agree completely that this is how we differentiate our professional services from (un)(non)-professional document assembly houses. It is our responsibility to educate the clients about this added value. I am sure there are many ways to help educate our clients, starting with the Ohio Supreme Court and our bar associations helping to advocate publicly for our profession.

      My first thought on how to implement this is to take every opportunity to meet with your clients. Use your lunches as meeting opportunities, and go visit clients at their office and home. You should then follow-up with the clients to explain what you observed and how you can help. This might be in the form of prepared educational brochures, or e-books on topics like estate planning, corporate minute preparation, contract review, or any other special services you provide.

      I also agree that this advice applies to many professions, including veterinarians, printers, recruiters, and anyone who wants to avoid commoditization.

    5. Mar 5th

      Bryan, to your point: http://www.inc.com/rene-siegel/five-reasons-you-need-to-meet-in-person.html

      I agree that in-person meetings are very important. It is too easy to just rely on email when dealing with someone. The problem is that you miss out on the relationship building.

      One of the problems that I see is that young people, myself included, have come to rely on technology so much for our day-to-day lives that we miss out on the chance to build these relationships. You used to be able to go to your butcher/banker/tailor/insurance agent/etc. and they would know you by name and your personal preferences. How many people now bounce from bank-to-bank or insurance company-to-insurance company without thinking twice? Yes it is easier to change now then back them, but that sense of relationship and loyalty is gone.

      I think the key for any company, including law and other professions, is to figure out a way to instill a sense of “brand loyalty” in its clients and customers so they no longer have to worry about the changing whims of the modern consumer.

    6. Mar 5th

      “Brand Loyalty” is a great topic. We should definitely think more about how to build brand loyalty with our clients.

      Of course we lawyers have the added challenge of having limited choices in naming our “brand”, but I think that makes it even more important to have a great logo and domain name… brand by proxy.

    7. Mar 5th

      We should brainstorm on the idea of “brand loyalty” for law firms. It sounds like a good blog topic, maybe even covering a series of posts rather than just one.

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