Today, I read yet another post from a woman law firm owner “venting” about a “bad” client. Certainly, some people will never be easy to work with. Most “bad” client stories I read and hear, though, could have different outcomes if the law firm had a better client control or client management system. In this episode, I share one that was taught to me when I started my practice years ago, and one I’ve shared with many of my women law firm owner clients with tremendous success.
- Why you need to stop “building rapport” and focus on client confidence instead
- One simple tactic to determine if your client is truly “invested” in their case (before you engage with them)
- Where 99% of attorneys fail in client management (and why you don’t have to be one of them)
- How to stop clients in their tracks when they try to take control of things (while still being kind and polite)
- And much, much more…
Mentioned in this episode:
- Wealthy Woman Lawyer® website
- Wealthy Woman Lawyer® League
- Davina on Facebook
- Davina on Twitter
- Davina on Instagram
Davina Frederick: Hello, and welcome to the Wealthy Woman Lawyer podcast. We believe all women lawyers deserve to be wealthy women lawyers. Our mission is to provide thought provoking, powerful and practical information to help you in creating your own sustainable wealth generating law firm without overwork or overwhelm, so you can live your best life. I’m your host, Davina Frederick. Let’s get started.
Hi, everyone, it’s Davina. I’m so happy you’re here today, and listening to this podcast episode. Because I think if you struggle with impertinent demanding clients, you are really going to like the information I’m sharing with you today. So before we get started, let me tell you a little story about one of my mentors. Now this gentleman had been a member of the Florida Bar, since just after it was founded in 1950. His bar number was something like 11, if I remember correctly, so I felt very fortunate to have him as a teacher and a mentor, when I first started out as an attorney. I learned so much from him. One lesson that has been a key to my success is about the importance of what he called client control. So although he didn’t have a written system, per se, not that I was aware of, he did have a very clear procedure when it came to initiating the client attorney relationship.
And this was very important because it set the tone for how the relationship would be throughout the entire engagement. So he would come in, he would start his process he would come in each new client consultation with such a calm confidence, that clients immediately began to relax in his presence. So by his very manner, his behavior, his word choice, he reassured each and every prospective client that he was very comfortable and very accustomed to helping people resolve problems, just like the ones that they have come to him with. And he was able to do this in a way without overtly stating it. So he didn’t have to come in and toot his own horn, and talk about why they should hire him. By his manner, he just conveyed that he knew how to solve the problem and knew how to get the job done. And he knew that by him being there that they already knew that. So of course, when I met him, he had been practicing for several decades, and people felt pretty sure that he knew what he was doing, just by virtue of the fact he’d been practicing for so long.
And of course, his his reputation preceded him. But I wondered as a new attorney, if I could do the same. So I started paying really close attention to what he exactly what he said and did, right, because I wanted to emulate that and see if I could do the same thing. And the first thing he would do when he started the meeting, is he would get right to the business at hand. So he didn’t worry about being liked or building rapport. Like you might hear some sales trainers tell you what you need to do. He didn’t ask if they want to coffee, or if they were having trouble finding parking when they got there. He just assumed that all of that had already been taken care of. And instead, he came into the conference room where they were already seated. And he introduced himself. And then he asked them a very important question. He asked them, why are you here to see me today? Now understand, he wasn’t unfriendly by any means. Okay? He was just simply matching his manner to the occasion.
People who came to see him did so because they had serious legal issues. Problems that likely were keeping them up late at night. He knew this and he respected it. And for the period of time prospective clients were seated in front of him, he gave his undivided attention. So he didn’t feel a need to waste time with small talk. This immediately sets the tone that this is a business conversation. There was never any question in his mind that he knew what he was doing, or that he would be able to help them by giving that steps, even if those next steps meant not hiring him. And his body language and words conveyed that level of confidence in a way that was neither arrogant or condescending. See too often, I have observed newer attorneys try to overcome their lack end experience by acting overly confident. So you’ll recognize them by the way, they may condescend to non attorneys who asked a question, or by how quickly they get defensive when someone asks them a question. And so they’re offended by that somebody even dares to ask them a question.
And what that does is really tapping into a deep perceived insecurity about their own skills and abilities. And the way that they try to cover that up is by seeming like they know everything, right. So when people feel confident in themselves, they don’t need to make others feel less important to make themselves feel more important. Respecting people’s time and acknowledging the that they may be currently dealing with a legal problem, they likely are very knowledgeable and skilled in many other things that you were not. So the person sitting in front of you may be there because they’ve been arrested for something or they may be there because they’re going through a really ugly divorce. Or they may be there because somebody is suing them in their business.
That doesn’t mean that they aren’t intelligent people, or people who are very knowledgeable and skilled in their own area of the business. And so it’s really important, if you want to establish a good relationship is to walk into the room, respecting the person sitting across from you, and not looking at their problem and limiting your definition of them by this one situation that they’re currently facing. I’m always reminded of a chapter in Jay Foonberg’s book, How to Start a Build a Law Practice where he says, you are competent, what you are not is experienced. He explains it, if you pass the bar, the jurisdiction in which you passed, it has deemed you to be competent. So you can relax a little about that. All you lack at that point is experience. And it may be the same thing with you, if you’re a new business owner, or if you’ve only been at it a few years, there are some times that you’re going to feel inexperienced. And it may feel like everybody sees you and sees that inexperience when they meet you.
But that’s not really the case. That’s really a story that we’re telling ourselves. But what I want you to know is that you have already as Jay Jay Foonberg says, you’ve already been deemed competent by the bar association to be an attorney. And you already have the tools you need to get the job done. Even if you are not a walking talking treatise on a particular subject. Another mentor of mine who had been an attorney again with 30 something years experience, and was an expert in his field, which was eminent domain. He said, you have to get comfortable being able to say I don’t know, if somebody asks you something you don’t know. And then say, but I can find out or I will find out. And when we take that expectation off of ourselves to know everything, we can feel confident in ourselves that we have the tools we need to get the job done. And that is more than enough. Right.
So the second part of my wise mentor’s process was to ask a lot of direct and important questions to ensure that he had a full grasp on the situation, his prospective client faced. So these questions were never superfluous. They were always critical to the understanding of the issue or the issues at hand. In essence, he used his direct examination skills and training to really get the full picture of what was going on. And he listened intently to the answers. His years of experience really helped him suss out any BS, or holes in the prospective client’s account of the situation. So he was really able to use that to understand their perspective. Here again, though, even if you don’t have this experience, I want you to know that the more you do this, the more you can dunk these client meetings, the better and faster, you’ll become at both issue spotting and at spotting red flags that your your prospective client may be throwing up, right.
So thirdly, my mentor, would sum up the situation once he had asked his questions, and they had answered. And maybe they had asked him a few questions, he was able to sum up the situation and sort of repeat it back to them. And do it in a way that reassured the prospective client their problems would be solved. And then he moved on to the next steps. And this part is very critical. To be clear, these these next steps were never about explaining how he was going to solve their problems. Or nor was it about trying to provide a mini legal education. So he wasn’t giving them a crash course in legal process for how the legal system works.
No, the next steps, always focused on what exactly they needed to do next. Which was number one, hire the firm to solve their problem. Or if it wasn’t to hire the firm. He would tell them what their next step might be a good option for them, right. And number two, it was to gather all the data that he would need to begin working on their case. My clients are very familiar with me talking about homework. At the end of every one of our sessions together. I picked up this habit from him. He always assigned homework to his prospective clients. Even many years later, when my husband and I hired him to enforce a non compete agreement against a former employee, he was violating it. He gave me homework at the end of that meeting. He gave everybody homework.
He said, the act of giving homework makes it very clear to the client, that their involvement in their case will be critical to his success and outcome. Plus, you can’t want it more than they do. And how they respond to homework tells you very quickly, if you care more about their success and their case. And if you’re putting more energy into it, then they are, if it is important to them, they will chill on that homework and get it get it done and back to you right away. If it is not, you may never hear from them again. Also, this habit will buy you some time, if you need to work people into your already packed schedule. By sending them away with a job to do, you’ll most you’ll most likely gain a couple of weeks reprieve from jumping in and starting the work. So obviously, everyone works differently. And many, many of the matters that people come to you with will have strict deadlines, you may have to provide an answer within 20 days, let’s say. So this time, saving half is really just more for your consideration. For you to see it, there’s it there’s an extra benefit to homework as well.
So years later, after working with this gentleman, I worked for another boss who really summed up effective management of people in a two part process. And I’ll often share this process with my clients. Today I’m going to share with you guys and the process is what goes like this. Number one is set clear expectations. And number two, is require routine reporting. So let me delve into this a little bit and tell you what I mean. Part one is pretty self explanatory. But you’d really be surprised, or maybe you wouldn’t, how many people miss the opportunity to set clear expectations. We don’t really have time today to get into all the elements of setting clear expectations. There are several parts to it. But suffice it to say this is where 99% of people managers fail. So whether you’re trying to manage or control a client expectations and relationships. Or whether you’re trying to manage employee expectations and relationships, this is a place that I would encourage you to really examine and ask yourself, where am I not being clear on setting my expectations for the other person. And also, where am I not clear on their expectations.
The second part really needs to be broken it down a bit further as well. So before you can ask someone to report back to you on a routine basis, which is what routine reporting is about, you need to make sure that you’ve set up a method and the means by which they are to report. So for many of you that may be a lot of people tend to use email. And email is very sort of loosey goosey. And there are no particular deadlines associated with anything. And I often encourage people to really use their case management as a portal and a place for clients to be able to report to you and for you to be able to report to them on a routine basis. But regardless of how you like to communicate with others, it’s important that you establish with them, the method of communication and the frequency of it and how you how you anticipate communicating with one another throughout the relationship. So this is as important as what they need to report to you.
Again, this is a topic worthy of a whole other episode in and of itself. But I just wanted you to begin noodling this over particularly if you do not yet have an effective system for managing relationships with clients. I know we’ve covered a lot today about client control, however, I saved the best for last. And that is the answer to the question. Why is it so important to create and consistently follow a routine or a system or process during the initial client meeting? And the answer is if you do not take control of that first meeting, then your client will feel nervous and likely will not hire you. Or even if they don’t trust their gut, and they hire you, despite their feeling, which many times clients will do, they will constantly try to assert their need to control the situation because they will feel you are not being effective in your system and process. So what they’ll do is they’ll try to fill in the gaps, and you’re probably not going to like that. So let me give you an example. So you understand what I mean.
If a client, if you establish for the client, right at the outset that we provide, proactively communicate with you about your case, once a month, by sending you a video update in the client portal. So if you’re wondering what’s going on in the case, in your case, then on the 20th of every month, we want you to go in and check and you’ll see a little video from us, that gives you an update on your case. And that’s how we’ll keep you abreast of that. Now, as you know, as we’ve discussed, it may be many months, before we have any real progress in your case, because once we file, the opposing party is going to need time to answer. And then we’re going to be collecting a lot of data and information, like medical records, and it might take a lot of time to do that. But I want you to know that we are always going to let you know even if there’s nothing going on, we’ll let you know that too, and that’s the way we will do it. And if you have a question for us, the best way to get an answer for us is to send a message to the client portal. And we will respond to that message within 24 hours, if it is during the work week. If it is not during the work week, feel free to go in there on the weekend and put your message in. And as soon as we get back in the office on Monday, we’ll respond within 24 hours to your question.
Now you see, with a very clear expectation and routine reporting around communication with a client. If you instead leave this open ended with them, and you don’t tell them how frequently you will communicate or what you will do. They’re going to worry about their case, and it’s going to gnaw them in months we’re going to go by, they haven’t heard from you, and you’re going to start getting emails from them. And it’s going to annoy you. Because you haven’t set up a system. And this is not an indication of a problem with them. This is an indication that there’s something that you haven’t done in your system and your procedure to make it a smooth process for everyone, right? Because of someone who has paid you 1000s of dollars, emailing you and asking you for an update should not be an annoyance. It certainly not doesn’t seem unreasonable to them. They’ve paid you money, they haven’t seen anything they haven’t heard from you in months. And so it’s a natural thing to say, hey, what’s going on, right? Squeaky wheel gets the grease.
So that’s where a lot of people are gonna think. But if you have a system or procedure in place, you can see how that would make a difference. And it’s important in establishing that, from the very beginning, right from that very initial meeting. If you approach each meeting with calm confidence that comes from having a new client consultation system, everyone, you included, will feel better about this process. Your client will feel better. They’re going to feel better on a visceral level that they likely cannot even explain to you after a client meeting with you. And we’ll be more inclined to follow your lead throughout the entire process of resolving the matter if they see right from the very beginning that you are confident about what the next steps are. If you continue this same system throughout your relationship with your clients by number one, setting clear expectations and number two, by implementing routine reporting both to and from your law firm, then you likely will begin to enjoy much more fulfilling client relationships. Your team is going to be a whole lot happier too because they’re going to know exactly what they need to do when to support you.
So that’s all I have for you today on this episode of the Wealthy Woman Lawyer podcast. If you liked what you heard, and you want to hear more of this type of content, follow us on Instagram at Wealthy Woman Lawyer or join our free Facebook community, Wealthy Woman Lawyer. If you’d love some help with learning how to work with clients you love instead of clients who seem to begin annoying the hell out of you almost as soon as the dries on the contract, then join us and the Wealthy Woman Lawyer League.
The Wealthy Woman Lawyer League is a membership community that supports women law firm owners in their efforts to scale their law firms to a million dollars or more in as little as three years, sometimes sooner and do so in a way that feels easy to them. Smooth and with total ease. In the League, you’ll receive not only my million dollar law firm growth framework, but also support through our weekly coach led women law firm on our mastermind and community with other like minded women law firm owners. To learn more about the League visit our website at www.wealthywomanlawyer.com and click on join the league to go to that page you can watch a free training and get all the details about the League. Thanks so much for being here and for listening to the Wealthy Woman Lawyer podcast again. We are so pleased to deliver this content to you every week and we hope you’re enjoying it and it is helping you in growing your law firm business.