A great lawyer delivers excellent service to his or her client. Part of delivering excellent service is communicating effectively.
You would think that a profession that relies so much on words would be composed of communication masters—but that isn’t the case. Effective client communication has an immense impact on a lawyer’s practice and success of a law firm. Therefore, it is important that you consider whether you—and the lawyers you work with or supervise—know whether you are communicating in a way that satisfies your clients.
For those of you that think that you and your firm are doing a great job—recent findings by the BTI Consulting Group found that 70% in general counsel do not recommend their primary firm to others, and 87% would replace a current firm if given good reason.
And you guessed it—most cited poor communication as a key determinant. Odds are, you aren’t doing so hot.
Here are some good points to help you and your team figure out where you can make improvements:
Assess your habits and identify barriers to efficiency.
For example, constant interruptions, outdated technology, or lack of knowledge within the team can obstruct communication. Additionally, personalities and communication styles vary. Once you identify what’s getting in your way, you can determine appropriate steps to address those issues. Individuals should consider not only their own communication styles, but also the communication styles of others. Seemingly simple steps like just talking about what one prefers (e.g., an email or a phone call; daily update or monthly check in) can make a huge difference. Firm-wide, accept feedback from attorneys and staff and work with them to resolve their obstacles.
Focus on the “client” and train your team to do the same.
Though this may seem obvious, not everyone on the team is working with the awareness of the client’s needs in mind. A firm—and its attorneys—must take a proactive approach to understanding its clients, including their characteristics, backgrounds, and environments in which they work and live. Getting to know your clients beyond their current legal issues gives you deeper insights into their perspectives and objectives. This information also informs and structures the feedback that you give, and helps you address issues from their points of view.
Remember, this isn’t just about your expertise and “telling” them what to do. This is about a partnership between you and the client as you help them address their legal issues.
If communication is a problem, you’re probably not listening. Active listening improves every relationship. Make it a point to hear and understand your clients when you are talking with them. Actively pay attention to what is being said.
Ask questions to stimulate thought and build clarity. Don’t just make assumptions or jump right into issue-spotting mode. Don’t just listen to what the client identifies as an issue, really make sure that you truly heard what the client’s needs and concerns are, and what his or her perspectives are about the issues involved.
Put a proactive focus on your client communications—it will be worth the effort. Developing strategies that bring about positive changes in client communications will raise their satisfaction with your services and have a lasting positive impact on the relationships—leading to a stronger and more profitable practice, and greater overall satisfaction with your practice.
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