In my first year as a lawyer, a partner with whom I frequently worked gave me advice that stuck: “Part of your job as a lawyer is to keep the client calm and reassured. Clients are usually under a lot of stress and have many fires to put out, including the (expensive) legal problems that they bring you. Besides excellent legal work, our job is to take on some of that stress and worry and assure clients that everything is under control and that their legal problems are in good hands.”
Reassuring Your Clients
This advice resonates with me. Good client service is important, of course, but the partner’s advice recognized that above and beyond the stress of the legal problem, clients are often unsure of whether they are getting a good deal. Dealing with lawyers is stressful for many clients because there is often significant asymmetry between what the lawyer knows and what the client knows.
Addressing Information Asymmetry
This dynamic isn’t unique to lawyers, of course. For example, bringing your broken-down car to the mechanic can be an uneasy experience for many. You may suspect that the necessary car repairs will be expensive, but it’s also difficult to shop around when your car is out of commission and you need it fixed right away. If you don’t know much about cars, it can be impossible to tell if a mechanic is making a quality repair or not.
Various industries address (or fail to address) information asymmetry in different ways. Banks, for example, even in the age of Internet banking, still often have large impressive buildings with marble entryways to signal wealth and stability. This helps make people feel confident about depositing their money with the bank, even if they don’t know much about the capital controls at the bank.
Ease the Stress
Luckily, installing gigantic, expensive marble columns in your office is not the only way to signal trustworthiness and competence to clients. A surefire way to ease tension is simply by being responsive to, and reassuring about, your client’s justifiable concerns. Tell prospective clients that you understand their problems. Tell them they are a priority. Don’t rely on what you know implicitly from your law training, and share with them how you will help. If you do these three things, clients will have more confidence in their decision to hire you.
As always, you must be mindful of your ethical obligations and avoid promising your clients certain results. But a guarantee of success is not the only way to take the burden of a stressful legal problem off of a client’s shoulders. Project professionalism. Be responsive and reassure. These are often overlooked sources of value for clients that lawyers can easily provide and incorporate into their practices.