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The civil in civil litigation

October 19, 2012

Here’s the plain simple truth: effective client advocates act with integrity. Resorting to tricks, deceptions, abusive language, bullying, last minute tactics and the like does not make you a great lawyer. It actually means you are a [insert four letter word here].

Thank you to Marie Henein, for her call for civility at the Bar, in her contribution to Precedent Magazine’s Big Ideas section:

“While civility is an important aspect of advocacy, professionalism and credibility, it does not make you less of a fighter, less fearless or less vigorous an advocate. When Winston Churchill sent a letter to the Japanese ambassador announcing war upon Japan, he ended it with: “I have the honour to be, with high consideration, Sir, Your obedient servant.” When criticized, Churchill said this about his unfailing civility even in the midst of a war: “Some people did not like this ceremonial style. But after all, when you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.” Fight and vigorous advocacy are not anathema to civility.”

I regularly hear from litigators about the painful machinations and bullying behavior of opposing counsel. The litigators I knows are lawyers lawyers. They are highly skilled advocates and are respected by the judiciary and their colleagues. They get to the best result for their clients while treating opposing counsel with civility. They are civil litigators in both senses of the word. Regrettably they are at risk of being outnumbered by the bullies.

I applaud Henein for her article and recommend to the legal bloggers, writers, educators, and practitioners that we continue speaking out for the benefits of civility and the ills of bullying tactics.

Next time a client tells you they are looking for a bulldog remember this:

“According to the American Kennel Club (AKC) a Bulldog’s “disposition should be equable and kind, resolute and courageous (not vicious or aggressive), and demeanor should be pacific and dignified. These attributes should be countenanced by the expression and behavior.”

The prize winning bulldogs are dignified and resolute. The snarling and snapping members of the breed are neutered.

Posted in: Client Relations, Leadership | Permalink | No Comments →

The adeptly delivered thank you

December 21, 2011

The gift of thanks is precious.  This morning I had the opportunity to listen in on a thank you voicemail message from a client to a lawyer I know.  The lawyer had sent over a holiday gift basket to the company and a senior member of the executive called to express his thanks.  His voicemail message was truly inspiring and reminded me about how an adeptly delivered thank you takes little time to give and can bring great happiness to the recipient.  Here’s what he did:

  • He picked up the phone and made a call.
  • He spoke slowly and told a story about how the gift basket was received and how everyone on the team appreciated it.
  • He expressed sincere thanks.

The lawyer was delighted by the message.

In these pre-Christmas days many of us working in the legal sector are sending and receiving gifts.  Often times in the interest of expediency we will send a quick email of thanks and certainly that is sufficient to check the proper etiquette box.  I encourage you though to take just an extra moment and make a phone call instead.  Happiness is contagious.

Posted in: Appreciation, Client Relations | Permalink | No Comments →

What to do when faced with a boring client

July 26, 2010

Here’s a question I get all the time when I am running business development training courses:

“What do I do when the person I am speaking to is boring?” 

In essence, business development for lawyers is all about building trusting relationships. The quickest and most sure-fire way to build trust is to spend more time listening than speaking. To be a good listener you need to be a good questioner and learn to ask about things that get people interested and speaking about subjects that matter to them. 

Or, as Mark Hunter commented in his Slaw column last week: “ever notice that people do business with people they like?” Being a good listener is the fast track to being likeable. 

So what happens when you can’t listen? What do you do if you find your client or important contact boring?

Faking interest never works.  And just imagine being on the receiving end with someone looking at you with boredom. The natural reaction is to feel insulted and to then judge the person to be arrogant, aloof and yes, unlikeable.  

The answer:  It’s up to you to find what is interesting about the person. Push aside your judgemental inner voice and place your focus firmly on the other person. Everyone is interesting, your job is to uncover this.  Use questions to get the person speaking about things that are important to him/her.  Follow your curiosity. The goal here is to listen and discover, not to prove how interesting you are.  Some sample questions that can open up a conversation are:

  • How did you get into being a …. ?
  • What are you looking forward to this weekend?
  • I’m curious, what made you decide to… (go to that school, travel to Palm Springs, etc.)

Another approach is to ask for advice when the opportunity arises. The majority of people enjoy teaching. 

Take me for example. I don’t golf. I have never held a golf club. What do I do when faced with an avid golfer?  Instead of getting bored and shifting the subject, I dig into it. I confess my general ignorance and then ask to be enlightened.  What are the best golf courses in town? Has it been good for business development? What’s the best age to start kids in the sport? What have been the best golf courses they have ever played on? What I discovered is that while I am not interested in the sport  I am interested in what people like about it and get out of it. 

The bottom line: it’s up to you to turn it around. It is in your power to turn boring into interesting. 

When you show you are interested and really listen to the person you will distinguish yourself from the majority of people who do not.  The end result is that the person will then likely become interested in you and it will be your turn to tell your story.

My favorite resource on all things to do with listening is Just Listen by Dr. Mark Goulston.   He reminds us all that we are responsible for our own degree of interest with this quote: 

“Boredom is what happens when I fail to make someone interesting.”  Warren Bennis, Founding Chariman, USC Leadership Institute

Posted in: Business Development, Client Relations, Leadership, Networking | Permalink | No Comments →

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