JW Way Fundamental #21: Invest in Relationships “Get to know clients, co-workers, and peers on a personal level. Understand others and what is important to them. Strong relationships are beneficial to all parties.”
There is an old saying: No one ever said on his deathbed, “I wish I’d spent more time in the office.”
What they do say are things like, “I wish I’d spent more time with my children“ or “I wish I had settled that dispute with my sister.” Personal things. Relationship things.
A longitudinal study has been done at Harvard for more than 75 years, and may still be continuing, called “The Harvard Study of Adult Development.” In large part, it is a study of what makes people happy in their life. There is a TED Talk that describes the study.
Dr. Waldinger, the presenter of this TED Talk, says that true happiness comes not from money or fame, but from our relationships. In his talk, he describes the benefit of relationships with co-workers and professional peers, as well as those with family and friends. He argues that when we live in a network of positive, mutually supportive relationships with family, friends, and co-workers, happiness is a natural result.
At Jaburg Wilk, we are blessed to be able to work in an environment that encourages positive relations with our co-workers, in no small part because our management enforces rules against mistreating others. But in addition to family, friends, and co-workers, we in the legal profession interact with clients. There is a very practical side of developing good personal relationships with clients.
Nearly all of my work comes from client referrals and internal referrals. Others in our firm get referrals regularly from outside attorneys. Even our institutional practices depend on the likes and dislikes of real people directing or reviewing work in those organizations.
Referrals may come from an appreciation of expertise alone, but in my experience, people refer to people they like. Being likeable, I believe, is very valuable and often comes from expressing interest in a client as a person, being responsive and friendly, showing empathy for her or his concerns, and doing the occasional favor without charge. In other words, investing time and attention in each client as a person is one way we become “likeable.” This is not always easy or convenient. We sell our time, so it is in short supply. Clients should not pay for time spent in pleasantries, and I consider that time a cost of doing business that frequently pays good dividends down the road.