Walk in Your Client's Shoes
I'm sure you are all familiar with the "Golden Rule", but do you know the "Platinum Rule"? It is "Treat others as THEY want to be treated"!! This is an extremely important difference, especially for attorneys that have been practicing for a number of years. It is important to remember, that you can't treat people the way they want to be treated, unless you "put yourself in their shoes".
After years of being in the "system" we become desensitized to the delays, unnecessary expense, and unfairness that often plague our court system. We become desensitized to the rudeness, arrogance and argumentative nature of many attorneys. Most of our Clients are not "veterans" of our world. They will not expect or understand these things, unless we discuss these issues and educated them. This is crucial to fundamental #6-- Managing expectations.
I have said for years that all attorneys should have to be a Client. Then attorneys would really understand that Clients want to be fully informed; not have surprises; have their attorney do what they said they would do; and other basic ways that all Clients want to be treated.
Additionally, we should address the emotional aspects of many legal matters. If our Client has discovered their longtime partner or employee has just embezzled money or quit and walked off with the customers and/or employees, besides the money involved, the Client's feelings of betrayal and hurt should be discussed. Everyone feels better when their feelings are validated, especially by an esteemed experienced attorney. Simply acknowledging to the Client that they must feel extremely hurt and betrayed by their partner/employee's actions, validates their feelings and sends the message that you understand. ( to be discussed more fully next week we must #5 Listen fully -- the Client may be telling you their goal is monetary, when in fact, it may be emotional)
Sometimes it is easy to recognize the Client's fears and concerns- sometimes it is not. In that case, the attorney should specifically ask the Client. This not only creates a better attorney/client relationship, but often it is crucial to recognizing the Client's true goals.
In summary, there are really 2 parts to this fundamental. The first is informational. Make sure the Client has a clear and accurate understanding of their path through the "process" of their legal matter. Whether it is a divorce, estate plan, loan workout or basic commercial litigation you must Manage expectations (see # 6) and you can only do this if the Client fully understands the path ahead. And then, you should do the basics…fully inform; no surprises; do what you say you will do etc….
Second, you must acknowledge and deal with the emotional aspects of the matter and act accordingly.
About the author: Gary J. Jaburg is the managing partner of the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk. He assists clients with employment and business matters, workouts of financial issues and business divorce.