What clients want most: A connection

Comedian Aziz Ansari, best known for his role as Tom Haverford in the TV show “Parks and Recreation,” recently teamed up with sociologist Eric Klinenberg to write the book Modern Romance, which includes an examination of texts and emails written between people who are dating – or trying to. A recent “This American Life” episode captures exchanges between Ansari and audience members at a show. Men and women are asked to share texts they’ve given and received in the course of asking someone out or being asked out. Ultimately, male audience members learn three tips about how to ask someone out via text: first, reference something that she’s talked about, to show you listen; second, suggest a specific time and place for the date (don’t be vague); and third, be funny.

Doing these things doesn’t always occur naturally to men. Doing the right things to get a date doesn’t occur naturally to women either. And it’s not just dating. Every day a restaurant doesn’t get it quite right, a TV show slightly misses the mark, or a quality retail store loses customers because no one’s around to help. Or a law practice loses a potential client.

None of this is done on purpose. We all do our best, and truly want to make others happy. Attorneys are no exception. Lawyers know the law, and they’re good at what they do. But sometimes something can be a bit off, without intent, and a potential client could end up at another lawyer’s office.

Without insight into what women want, men can’t write that winning text message, no matter how wonderful they might be. Without knowing what clients or legal consumers want, lawyers can’t always get a client’s business – even great lawyers.

For the next four weeks, once a week, we will offer a new installment that shares with you what legal consumers are telling us about what makes a lawyer worth hiring. Some things we share may be common knowledge, but it helps to hear consumers validate it. Other things might surprise you. But in the end, you’ll get information straight from the people you want to eventually represent: thoughtful, well-informed consumers with legal needs.

Consumer insight #1: think of it as speed dating

For legal consumers, consults are not just about determining whether there’s a case, how complicated it is, or how much it will cost. Consumers use in-person consults as opportunities to “feel things out” – to gauge a lawyer’s personality and determine whether there’s a personal connection. You could be a five-star attorney who wins every case, but if a potential client doesn’t feel treated well, they won’t hire you. And this is directly from a consumer’s mouth.

In some ways it’s like speed dating: in just a few minutes, they’ll know whether they will be comfortable working with you over the next weeks or months. Here are some tips for getting that “second date.”

  1. Cover the basics of good communication. We all know the basics, but we often let them slip because we’re too busy or too focused on problem solving to make sure we get them right. This is understandable. Unfortunately, winning a client means you can’t let those essential components of effective communication slip. Make good eye contact. Listen, almost more than you speak. Nod when they talk to you, to show you’re hearing them. Ask questions to understand their entire situation. Give them your full attention. One consumer described a lawyer who was texting on their cell phone during a consult a “douchebag.” You don’t want to be one of those.
  2. Earn respect, but then a connection. Consumers want a lawyer who respects them, which essentially comes down to making a client feel acknowledged. A bit of empathy can go a long way here, but according to consumers, solid communication (see above) also builds respect. Connection is something different, and it matters more for some than others. For some prospective clients, they want to feel like their lawyer shows interest in them as people, and that they’re more than just the facts of their case. Consumers tell us that a lawyer you can build a relationship with is one who cares.
  3. Assume they already know something. Most consumers these days don’t see a lawyer without doing some research first. All sorts of information is at their fingertips, thanks to the internet, and they seek it out. It’s not too unlike going online to diagnose your illness before seeing the doctor. Assuming a prospective client knows nothing could inadvertently come across as disrespect. As one consumer put it, they don’t want lawyers to “talk down to them” by just telling them what the solution is. They want their lawyer to feel more like a partner.

In some ways, dating and lawyering are the same. You want to convince the person sitting in front of you that you’re the one they’re looking for. Until you decide they’re not the one you’re looking for. But at least in that case, the choice is up to you.