Lawyers work with words the way a sculptor works with clay, manipulating them into messages that get results. For that reason, most lawyers think they are pretty good at communicating, but many are wrong.
Effective communication is the key to growing your practice, and it's about more than choosing the right words. Clients judge you on your communication skills the moment they make contact with your firm. When a client feels understood, that client is more likely to be satisfied and refer your firm to others. Here are five tips to improve your communication and grow your firm.
Perhaps the most effective way to get client communications off on the right foot is to set expectations at the start. Explain how often clients should expect to hear from you and the best means to contact you. Also, be sure to let clients know the days and times they can reach you and when communication lines may be closed or delayed. Once you establish these expectations, it is crucial to abide by them. If you fail to send a progress report or answer a phone call, offer your sincere apologies.
You know the old adage about having two ears and one mouth? When a client explains a problem, it can be very tempting to save time by jumping in or interrupting. This gives the impression that you are not listening, resulting in them feeling unheard. For many clients, having an attorney who answers their questions and validates their concerns separates a good experience from a bad one, regardless of the outcome of the case. Restraining the urge to cut in can make the client feel that you genuinely care about what they have to say. Moreover, it might allow you to pick up valuable information that you might not otherwise have heard.
Suppose you prefer email, but your client hasn't checked their email account since 2011. In that case, email communication will not be the most effective way to convey information to that client. Find out whether your client prefers phone calls, text messages, or snail mail, and use their preferred mode of communicating whenever possible.
When you have a lot of information, it is easy to send out a message explaining everything all at once. However, many people have trouble absorbing multi-part messages. Try to convey information in small chunks, using layman's terms, whenever possible. The extra time it takes will be made up by the time you save not having to repeat things.
Lawyers know their clients come to them at a time when they are facing hardship. It's important to let clients know you're aware of their situation appreciate their concerns. Your firm can convey empathy in many ways. While you may understand how to read non-verbal cues, make sure your staff members do as well. Train them in useful listening techniques, especially those that work well in electronic communications. Also, when possible, try to avoid the use of automated phone and email messages. When clients interact with another person, even if it's only through an answering service, they feel connected.
Remember that when you increase client satisfaction, you not only increase the likelihood of referrals, but you can also decrease the potential for complaints and ethical violations. This is a clear win-win.