Many physicians are evaluated not only on the basis of their medical knowledge but on the ‘bed method’ when dealing with patients. Bed style is usually defined as the way a doctor talks and communicates with patients, including how bad news is spread, how patients are informed of medical problems, and other attributes. The legal profession is also a people-centered field, and attorneys often need to interact with clients in an elegant and emotional way while acting. However, many attorneys can work on their bedside and focus not only on their legal arguments, but how they interact with the people they represent.
Many times in my career, I have seen attorneys behave a lot like attorneys when dealing with clients, spreading bad news, and reassuring people who might be facing legal issues. Sometimes lawyers want to hedge their data so that they cannot be held responsible if something they say turns out to be incorrect. Of course, in some cases, it is important to be clear about expectations so that attorneys do not mislead clients.
However, attorneys should not let their instincts stand in the way of reassuring clients and positive interaction with the people they represent. For example, earlier in my career, I participated in a conference call with a client who had just received a request letter. The customer was so dazed about the whole situation and kept asking if everything was going to be okay. The client didn’t want to be sued and of course litigation is a tough proposition for everyone. As a result, the client was definitely looking for some reassurances from his attorney. Yet another attorney on the call continued to hedge everything he said with the words “to my knowledge” or “this is what I understand” to leave room for maneuver in case he said something that turned out to be wrong. The customer wasn’t happy with the responses, and kept asking if everything was okay.
In the end, I stepped in and said I don’t know conclusively what will happen in the future, but the client will receive the best legal representation possible. I even said I would assume all of the client’s worries about their legal issue so that the client can live their life without having to think about what will happen next. The client seemed so happy that I spoke to him as a sympathetic human being rather than a lawyer who was primarily interested in covering his butt, and this helped improve my acting and communication with the client.
Another way that attorneys can operate with their lifestyle is the words they use with clients. Lawyers often use technical terms when speaking to clients and other people involved in legal matters. Sometimes, this attorney is used because it is easier for attorneys to convey an idea with these words. Other times, attorneys may want to demonstrate their expertise by using technical terms associated with the legal issue in which they are involved. However, people without a legal background may not be able to use words that are difficult to understand.
Once at the start of my legal career, I was tasked with signing in-state subpoenas related to the issue of out-of-state litigation. I had to talk to the client about the in-state subpoenas filing process regarding an out-of-state issue, and I kept referring to the documents as duces tecum and ad testificandum. The client was confused by my use of such terms and asked me to speak to her in an easily understandable language. As a result of this experience, I never used unnecessary technical terms while talking to clients again, and I made sure I spoke about a situation only from the average person’s perspective.
Lawyers can also improve their lifestyle by communicating with their clients in a more meaningful way. All too often, attorneys view themselves as just a transactional relationship with clients and do not wish to go out of their way to connect on a deeper level. However, clients are more likely to recommend a company to their friends and return the business if they have a beneficial personal relationship with a lawyer.
For example, I always try to have a brunch with clients after a big win. Not only does the event celebrate victory, it also ensures that the client has a good memory of their lawyer and can communicate with their attorney over a meal instead of in the office or over the phone. Plus, whenever practical, I try to travel to clients to hand out settlement money instead of mailing a check. That way, I can see them face-to-face and do the powerful job of the client that we hope they will remember when assessing the future needs of legal services. Additionally, prior to the pandemic, I tried to meet key clients in person on a regular basis to discuss matters in person and forge a deeper relationship.
Finally, legal professionals should not always act like attorneys when dealing with clients. Sometimes compassion for clients and adopting a good bedside approach can be important to serving clients and building a practice.
Jordan Rothman is a partner Rothman Law Firm, A full-service law firm in New York and New Jersey. He is also a founder Student Debt Diary, Which is a website that discusses how to pay off student loans. You can reach Jordan via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.