JW Way Fundamental #4: Walk in your clients’ shoes
“See the world from their perspective. Empathize by understanding their fears and concerns and showing you care. Ask, “If I were in their shoes, what would I want to know and how would I want to be treated?”
Previously, I told a story about a monkey. The monkey discovered a banana in a jar, and he grabbed it. When he tried to pull the banana out, his hand got stuck in the jar. The monkey could easily free his hand if he simply let go of the banana. Instead, the monkey held onto the banana for several days until a hunter captured him.
It is easy for us to see that the monkey made a stupid decision, but put yourself in the shoes of the monkey. He had never encountered a trap before, and he was hungry. He was blinded by his craving and unfamiliarity.
Our clients are no different. Their desires, wants, emotions, and unfamiliarity with the legal system, often blind them from seeing what we see. One of the most effective ways to convince a client to let go of the banana is to put yourself in their shoes. Why are they holding onto the banana? What is the best way to convince them to let go based on what you know about the client? This is easier said than done because each client is different. There are, however, some universal things to do.
- Listen fully. Many clients are not capable of listening fully to us and accepting our advice until they feel that we have listened fully to them.
- Demonstrate respect. Acknowledge their pain, and demonstrate sympathy. Be kind and thoughtful. Answer their phone calls and emails in a timely fashion. Keep them updated on where things stand. Pay attention to the finances, and provide an honest and thoughtful budget. Let them know if you are going to exceed the budget, and explain why.
- Communicate clearly. Before giving your assessment, ask yourself what is the most effective way to communicate with this client? Consider their education and work experience. Sometimes we need to be blunt and forceful. Sometimes a soft touch is required. Consider what is more likely to be effective for this client before speaking.
- Deliver outstanding advice. Be honest. Being sympathetic is important, but don’t sugar coat things. Clients appreciate honesty above all else.
This fundamental extends not just to clients. When you are negotiating with opposing counsel, think to yourself what does he or she want? Often, opposing counsel wants to be able to brag to their client about how they convinced you to do something or another. Consider what “victory” you could give them that would achieve your clients’ goals. This is also true of the opposing party. Think carefully about how they must feel and what they may want. Choose your words carefully when making accusations against them in a demand letter or pleading. Some things cannot be unsaid. It may feel good to draft a perfectly worded sentence quoting from Justice Scalia and Shakespeare. Your client will probably like it. But, is that really the best thing for your client? Is the time you spent researching and writing that perfectly worded sentence really worth it? Did you consider how your words will affect the other party? How do you react when someone harshly accuses you of wrongdoing? Should you even be writing a demand letter – perhaps a polite phone call would be better?
Before you speak, take off your shoes, and walk in theirs.