Important Signals To Clients:  People

This is the final instalment in our series on non-legal capabilities important to clients.

We have already discussed physical evidence and processes, and we now turn to people – how the people we deal with colour our judgement of the service we are buying.

Excluding online, when we buy things we deal with people. Yes – those people typically work for businesses, which we may have predispositions about, but moments of truth arise in our exchange with particular people.

There is a truism in buyer behaviour that we make buying decisions emotionally and seek to justify them intellectually or financially.

So too – as our legal problems become more complex our reliance on the people we are dealing with escalates. Where we aren’t technically informed, we judge the manner and confidence of the person in front of us. Are they warm or arrogant? Will we trust them and their advice? Will we leave feeling ‘it’s all under control’?

And let’s face it, some people simply inspire confidence. Take any two partners – we’ll call them Carol and Frank – put each of them in a meeting room with the same client and the same fact situation, and Carol will come out with $60,000 worth of work while Frank comes out with nothing.

Needless to say this generates never ending partner discussion around ‘What the hell are we going to do with Frank?’ (And Frank – you guessed it – is an acknowledged great technician in his area of practice.)

The best people lawyers develop their relationships with clients on both a matter dimension and a people dimension. Both are important for ongoing trust. If a situation arises in the future which tests the relationship (e.g. unexpected escalation of fees) then the lawyer who can relate as a friend is much more likely to navigate his way through the problem than someone who can only relate on matter facts.

Many years ago, I was in the office of a friend and I watched his secretary in action with an older client couple. (I later found out that she kept brief notes on all clients). She said something to the effect of – ‘Now Mrs Jones, I think yours is the white tea with one sugar and Mr Jones – you have the black coffee with an Equal…’ They predictably fussed about her memory. The killer punch came when they were on the way out and she said ‘by the way – how is Brian’s leg going?’ (Evidently their son had a skiing accident a year previously).

Now, I have no idea what they were in my friend’s office for, but I can guarantee that even if he were on the cusp of illiteracy, they would have told their friends that he was the best solicitor in Brisbane!!

Treating people as humans is essential in all relationships, along with consistency. And remember, it is a weakest link model. There’s no point in everyone else being charming if your credit manager behaves like a Nazi.

So next time your CPD deadline comes around, consider getting some training / coaching in dealing comfortably and reliably with people. It can really make a difference.

Published: Queensland Law Society – Proctor, November 2015 p.56


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