We’ve all heard the old parable.
Five blind men heard that an elephant had come to town. Three of them decided to explore what an elephant was all about, then share it with the others.
One man touched the tail and thought, an elephant is like a snake. Another man ran into the elephant’s broadside and said, an elephant is like a high wall. The third man grabbed a leg and wondered, how an elephant could be like a tree? Each man shared his own experience with the others, and they couldn’t agree on what an elephant is like.
I love this parable because it describes so well the experience lawyers and clients face when they try to share what constitutes a good client experience.
Most lawyers want to build a strong client relationship. They believe that when they are professional, logical, and offer good advice (and resolve the matter) that they have provided the elements of a good relationship.
Clients see it entirely differently. Clients understand intellectually that they need your help to resolve their legal problem, but what they actually want is comfort, reassurance, and connection.
Clients want comfort
Clients face a range of emotions, primarily negative ones, when they have a legal problem.
In her article, “In the Hot Seat: Understanding Client Stress Can Grow Your Practice,” Dr. Nika Kabiri notes that clients reach out to lawyers during the most stressful life events, like getting a divorce, death of a spouse, or suffering personal injury or illness.
That is in addition to the everyday stress they feel from work pressures, financial concerns or the current unstable climate in the country. Such a high level of stress shows up as irritability, frustration, anger and brain fog.
Your clients need you to create a calming, comforting experience that allows them to regain their composure and make better decisions. They need you to deal productively with their frustration over not being able to solve the problem without help, and feeling out of control. Creating a system helps them and you. Comforted clients have better attention spans and process information faster, which makes your job easier.
Clients want reassurance
Meeting with a lawyer is intimidating. You can be the nicest person in the world, but clients still often feel unsure of what to do or say in an unfamiliar situation.
Think about the first time you went to see a specialist to help you with a medical condition. Or your first time at a Michelin-rated restaurant. Even though you’ve eaten at plenty of restaurants and seen doctors all your life, the experience probably made you nervous, right? That’s how clients feel when they see you, too.
Clients want you to put them at ease and reassure them about the experience they are about to have with you. Nobody wants to look silly or feel stupid, and sadly, lawyers have a way of doing that to clients.
Instead, respond to your clients by answering the questions discussed in the book, Outside In by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine. Their book focuses on generating customer insights and creating a customer experience map that leads to a better client experience. As the book explains, clients worry about these questions:
- What is it?
- Will it work for me?
- Will I look stupid?
What is it?
Explain the client’s legal problem and the steps to solve it. Help them understand the timetable and the importance of making decisions. But be aware that you will have to repeat the explanation several times—during intake, in your onboarding materials, and during meetings—to combat the brain fog that clients experience.
Will this work for me?
Clients fear uncertainty. Although you can’t guarantee outcomes, you can help clients understand the most likely outcomes.
Share your experience in the field and specifically with their type of legal problem to bolster their confidence that things will get resolved.
Wondering what to say? Think about what you’d want a doctor who was handling a health scare for you to say and how you’d want that doctor to behave towards you. Use your empathy.
Clients want connection
Perhaps what clients want most from their lawyer is connection. That’s a scary word, I know. Simply put, clients want to be in a relationship with you. Connection is part of our survival instinct.
Law school teaches us to rely on logic, not emotion. We learn to reduce clients down to a fact-pattern that we search for issues. Our clients are real people who happen to have a legal problem. They aren’t simply cases and don’t want to be treated that way. Clients want to know that you are on their side, that you care and that they will survive.
The nice thing is that you can give your clients that peace of mind by simply saying: “I’m here for you and you will get through this.”
That’s the message, and you’re welcome to put boundaries around it if that makes you more comfortable. My bet is that when you start creating a reassuring experience and connecting with clients, not only will your practice grow, so will your satisfaction with being a lawyer.
Why does this matter?
Times have changed. Today, legal consumers bring new energy and perspective to shopping for legal services. They understand that they have alternatives to traditional law firms and they are using them. Clients want efficiency and they want a meaningful client experience.
The future of law belongs to firms that are willing to let go of old notions of service and embrace the new ways of lawyering. Now is a good time to assess and refresh your law firm systems to ensure you have the infrastructure to become more client-centric.
About the Author
Dina Eisenberg is a lawyer and CEO of OutsourceEasier.com, which helps lawyers create outsourcing and onboarding strategies. Contact her on Twitter @DinaEisenberg.