Speak Like a Human and Get More Business

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The conversation began just like the dialogue I’ve had many times with attorneys in just about every area of specialization.  The attorney sitting across the desk from me began:

    “I’m really smart.  Graduated top of my class.  I clerked for Judge Smith.  I interned at Smarty, Smarter and Billem and I was in Super Lawyers for my specialization in my state. In my current role, I help NGOs mitigate risk, terminate unproductive agreements and negotiate adequate consideration in transactions where we relinquish certain protected rights.”

As I scratch my head, he continues:

    “I just don’t understand why I have such a hard time finding clients.”

This conversation takes place a few times each month.  Sometimes it happens on the phone and sometimes it happens in person.  Sometimes the attorney is a “high potential” in a big firm who just can’t originate new business and sometimes he is an attorney in a solo practice who wants to make more money.

The problem is that these smart attorneys don’t know what the real problem is.

Here is the reality:  Our friend in the example is smart.  He is probably a good lawyer. But he forgot how to communicate like a normal person.

People want to work with folks they know, like and trust.  They don’t want to work with an all-knowing computer.  Communicating with a client is an interaction between two human beings.  People have to like you before they will decide to work with you.  It is the way of the world. 

I know that you’ve heard that people want to work with the best.  And you may have heard that they don’t care if the person is likable.  You’ve heard that they want a pit bull for a lawyer.  This may be true for an isolated case or in a specific incident.  But for the long term, if you are going for the big prize of Client Lifetime Value, you need to be likeable and that starts with good communication. 

Here are a couple of things to think about when you are meeting with a potential client for the first time:

Imagine that the client is your mom, dad, sister or brother.  How would you treat them?  What would be the level of respect you would show them?  How intently would you listen before you spoke? What questions would you ask them? How would you ask those questions?

If you begin to THINK like this you will find yourself ACTING differently.  Even your body language will be different.

Remember that although this may by your 1000th Real Estate closing or your 156th divorce, it may be your client’s first.  They are confused, afraid and concerned about moving forward with the rest of their life after this transaction. 

You have to keep those kinds of things in mind as you communicate with your clients.  It is your job, but it is their life.  Don’t ever forget that.  Even in a corporate setting, someone may be betting their career on you. 

Yes, they want to know that you’ve done this before.  Yes, they want to hear about how you have helped other folks in similar situations.  But they want to hear it within the context of their situation.  That’s what is important.

Finally, if you have to use words that your 14 year old nice or nephew would need to look up in a dictionary, you will not be successful.  Your primary responsibility is to give your client good advice.  If they don’t understand you, you can’t advise them effectively.

This is particularly true for CEOs and their country club buddies.  The only difference between them and mom and pop is that mom and pop will admit when they don’t understand something.  Most CEOs will smile, nod and go along with you in the meeting room – and then have you removed from the case as soon as you walk out of the office.

You must be liked before you can be trusted.  The process of winning someone over begins with good communication.

So mitigate the big words and cease and desist with the legal jargon and you’ll make more money.