Human communication is layered with non-verbal messages and read-between-the-lines language that require a high level of emotional intelligence to navigate. In the legal field, picking up on these signals can help an attorney establish and build trust with potential and current clients alike. For attorneys who excel in their practice but perhaps struggle with interpersonal communication, we’ve put together a few quick tips to help you meet the needs of your clients.
“Active listening” and “good communication” are buzzwords we’ve all used during an interview or around the office, regardless of our industry. From law firms to contractors to hair stylists, professionals recognize the role of effective communication—which might explain why most adults fancy themselves expert listeners.
While active listening is typically associated with head nods, the occasional “mhmm”, and an accurate regurgitation of a speaker’s main points, the Harvard Business Review contends that these actions just barely scratch the surface. Skilled listeners will first create an environment in which a person feels comfortable speaking. For attorneys, this means eliminating distractions. Desk and cell phones, a smartwatch, or any other electronics that threaten to divert attention away from a client should be tucked away. From here, your own body language, the questions, and insights you offer, and your ability to pick up on nonverbal cues (and acknowledge them) not only deepens your understanding of a client’s unique circumstance, but also establishes a foundation of trust.
Break it Down
A benefit of honing your listening skills is gaining a clear understanding of a client’s motivation around specific litigation. Becoming familiar with their goals empowers you to provide information in the context of their aspirations. Give clients insight as to why information matters to them and reinforce a positive perception of your firm. Frame information in a way that connects with your clients to let them know you’re listening, and again, you’ll earn their trust.
In addition to context, remember to steer away from legal jargon. Avoid inaccessible language that can further confuse—and potentially frustrate—your clients. Be sure to break down terminology in a way that aligns with each individual client’s needs. And remember to always loop back to why the information you are giving them is relevant!
What might be the biggest challenge of running your own practice? Following up with client communication in a timely manner in the midst of meetings, casework, and court dates. While the clients who have you face-to-face appreciate your undivided attention, your focus there will inevitably result in unanswered client (or potential client) phone calls. Virtual receptionists are a great solution to a ringing phone. Clients are able to connect with a real, live human ready and trained to help them, while you remain focused on the task at hand. Even if a receptionist is answering your calls, be sure to set aside time to follow up with clients. Keep them updated and check in to reassure them that their needs haven’t been forgotten to maintain valuable positive client relationships.
Bottom line: Eliminate distractions in your environment, seek to understand client goals, and avoid legal jargon to meet clients where they are. Better communication means an elevated client experience, which translates into wider profit margins for your firm.
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