If you want more clients, we recommend you use kindness and empathy to help convey that you’re genuinely interested in helping them achieve the best outcome possible. Help potential clients feel more comfortable and confident in your ability to represent them effectively, and you will increase the likelihood of them hiring you.
For most clients, being in a legal situation is a new and even frightening experience. So they prefer to work with a lawyer who they perceive as being truly invested in their case. They want someone they can trust will be responsive to their needs. This is why, when they talk with you, they are seeking more than just logical answers. They need to feel heard and understood.
Clients want a lawyer who understands their perspective and can help them navigate all aspects of the legal process. This article will show you how to increase empathy, establish value, and land more clients.
To win more clients, you must literally win them over by understanding and connecting with their needs and concerns. Putting yourself in a potential client’s shoes enables you to better communicate and present each case in a way that resonates with each client. Even if you do not have a similar experience to draw on, the value of genuinely listening to your client is immeasurable.
In most cases, people’s legal issues are not something they share or discuss with others. Often, they try to find ways to hide them from the public. Because of this, clients may feel a great need just to have someone they can trust who will listen to them.
You know how attorneys are also called counselors? We provide guidance and counsel to our clients. We have experience in a realm of life that most people try to avoid. Although we may become immune to the feelings of being scared and intimidated because we are in and out of courtrooms every day, most people have never seen one except on their television.
How often do you focus wholly on the client and acknowledge their message, without judging them, in a way they can understand? You may feel frustrated by clients who demand more of your time and want to avoid them, and it can be easy to forget – especially as you get bogged down in the everyday strenuous requirements of the job – but many times we’re referred to as, “attorney and counselor at law.”
That designation of “counselor” is a reminder that you actually serve two purposes for your legal client. Your job is to both help them understand the law and help them feel understood. As criminal defense lawyer and LegalMatch member attorney Bayoji A. says, “sometimes we get focused on: how do we best help this client legally? And we lose sight of the fact that these are people that are dealing with a personal crisis, and sometimes they’re not just merely looking for a lawyer, but they’re also looking for someone who can be an advocate to them and a counselor.”
As an attorney you can recite laws, but as a counselor your role is to go beyond the facts and explain to your clients how the laws apply to their specific case and provide them with personalized and guidance.
If you want clients to trust that your years of education and experience will be put into their case, your goal should be to make each client feel they are receiving your full attention. Show them that you care. This is where the counselor part of lawyering becomes very important. When a client feels heard and valued, their trust in you grows.
Legal educators are beginning to recognize that understanding, empathy, and compassion (the so-called soft skills of being present with and fully listening to the client) are of equal importance to your intellectual and analytical abilities of research, preparation, and problem-solving.
In combination with “thinking like a lawyer,” empathy and compassion make your analysis stronger. Empathy cements the attorney-client relationship. And you should know that attorneys who are happy with their work often cite the enjoyment they get from helping people or hearing that they made a difference in someone else’s life.
Developing empathy skills and using them with clients can have a profoundly positive effect on both you and your clients, and it can even help improve the public perception of lawyers as well as the professional as a whole.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It involves recognizing and acknowledging the emotions of others, and being able to respond in a way that is sensitive and appropriate to those emotions.
Empathy is different from sympathy, which is feeling sorry for someone else’s predicament, or pity, which is looking down on someone else’s plight. Empathy is being able to understand the feelings of others and respond in a compassionate and appropriate way.
Empathy is essential to obtaining new clients and keeping existing ones. It is easy to ask a client for information about their legal case and needs. It takes more time and effort to establish rapport by getting to know the client as a person and learning what is important to them and how their mind works.
Understanding someone else’s perspective is easier said than done. As a lawyer, there are several reasons why it can be especially difficult for you to empathize with clients and potential clients, including:
Even so, empathy is a skill you can develop and strengthen through practice and effort.
Clients want to know whether you’re truly listening to them or if you only see them as a means to make money. It’s therefore very important to be attentive in conversation with your clients and respond appropriately to their statements. Even if you only have 10 minutes, providing your client with 10 minutes of undivided attention can be extremely beneficial for both of you.
At the simplest level, using empathy can mean just listening to someone else. But using empathy also means knowing when to be formal or technical in your stance or tone. For example, when you are giving your client case updates or explaining legal strategies, it is good to maintain a professional conversation. However, it is also important to pay attention to the client’s responses.
For example, if they do not seem able to understand your statements or if they seem distracted, they are likely distracted by an emotional issue. It can be helpful to ask what may have them upset that day. This will help calm them down, ensure they notice you are actually paying attention to them, and help you develop a more trusting relationship – which will likely cause them to share more case-related information with you.
Kindness, of course, cannot be taught. Many attorneys, however, entered the legal field because of compassion and a desire to help other people. So try and reconnect with those early motivations that got you into this career in the first place.
Clients who receive your empathy are very likely to share their positive experiences with other people, your potential future clients. Everyone has had the experience of paying a professional for their opinion, only to feel dismissed and belittled. When you make your client feel heard, understood, and important will have a lasting positive effect on them and make them much more likely to recommend your services to others.
Most clients hire an attorney to help them deal with an issue that is causing them not only inconvenience, but emotional distress. So remember that while the client is waiting on their case to move forward or be resolved, they are also going about their everyday lives – often experiencing conditions or consequences related to that stressful legal issue. To you, they may be a file in a cabinet or your computer. But for that client, their whole lives are disrupted.
Be sure to set aside time for quick phone calls with your clients so you can check in and see how they’re doing. This can be helpful throughout the case, and even prior to the client hiring you. If a potential client believes you are sincere in your desire to help them with their legal issue, they are much more likely to be open and honest during their consultation. It gives you a better chance at being hired.
When you take that short time to listen to a potential client and allow them to emote or vent during a conversation, they will feel that you are actually listening to them and care about their situation. With everything else you have to do as a lawyer, it may seem daunting to set aside time to sit, listen, and be patient. But if you encourage and model frequent communication, potential clients will not feel rushed or pressured to retain you. They can discover at their own pace what you have to offer them professionally.
This can also apply to clients with ongoing cases. A client may not be comfortable sharing all of the information that is important in their case when they first meet you. However, as the case progresses and they learn that you are listening and do care, they will likely share additional facts or circumstances that can be helpful to building their case.
Being empathetic is a skill that may take practice for you to improve. One way you can work on this skill is to offer your clients free consultations. This allows you to interact with many different potential clients and practice and improve your empathy skills. You will be able to gauge the way potential clients respond to you and may even begin noticing more positive responses as you improve your skills.
On the surface, empathy seems like a fairly simple skill to harness. And while nodding in agreement might feel like you’re being empathetic, there are a few more components to making people feel truly heard and understood.
Here are some ways you can use your free consultation to show you are empathetic:
If you treat a potential client with empathy during their free consultation, they will most likely tell their friends and family of their great experience. This works like free advertising for your practice, as those people will likely think of you if they have an issue in the future. And if you want to build your empathy skills outside your professional practice, here are a few more suggestions:
Do not make them wait too long. For new and potential clients, respond within 10 minutes of the case posting. This shows that you care about their situation and you understand that time is crucial for them and their case. This goes as well for existing clients, even those with whom you have already cultivated a certain level of rapport. Nothing spells neglect more than delay. To remind yourself of this, remember that you too do not like to be kept waiting. Use available tools and technologies to ensure prompt responses. You have a 90% chance of reaching the potential client if you call within 1 minute after they post their case in LegalMatch. The first attorney to speak with the potential client usually gets the case.
Learn when to be formal and when to be friendly. Being empathetic also means knowing the right time to be formal and technical or conversational in tone or stance. While talking about case updates or legal strategies, you would do well to maintain a professional, straight-to-the-point conversation. All the while, though, know when to take the cue from their responses. If, for example, they seem distracted or unable to absorb what you are saying, it can only mean that they are emotional. Ask them, gently if needed, what it was that is upsetting them. Not only will you be able to help them calm down, you will also be getting invaluable insight into their behavior.
Read up and keep up with breakthroughs in psychology. Additional knowledge in the behavioral sciences will help any lawyer in their practice. There are many online sites offering articles and journal articles on new research and breakthroughs in psychology and sociology. With intersectionality on the minds of academics and social scientists these days, many interesting papers have been written. For instance, reading about a study on criminal psychology and social media platforms might prove to be helpful in handling existing or future cybercrime cases.
Conduct short but regular calls to catch up. Most people hire legal professionals to deal with cases that are causing them at the very least inconvenience or at worst, emotional distress. Remember that while waiting for these cases to progress or be resolved, clients are living their lives as usual, often with the consequences or conditions related to their legal issue. Plan out quick calls with them and ask them how they are doing.
Listen carefully to what they say. Potential clients want to know whether you are truly listening to them or whether you care more about their situation than the retainer fee. Strive to be attentive in any conversation and make sure to respond in words and manner appropriate to their statements. Listening with half an ear may result in responses that they could interpret as insincere or uncaring. Giving a client 10-15 minutes of your undivided attention will most certainly create goodwill and potentially long-term benefits for you.
To achieve a successful outcome for your client, your job is to become the translator of their story and present it well to others. You also have to empathize with opposing counsel to translate their client’s point of view during settlement negotiations. You have to empathize with opposing counsel in order to effectively relate to them. You must empathize with the jury or the judge to address their concerns as you convey information about your client.
Beyond getting hired, it’s crucial to practice empathy skills during all steps of every case as well as in the rest of your relationships and work.
Kindness is of course not something we can teach. But assuming that what drove you to a career in law is an inherent passion for justice and equality, compassion for our fellow human beings should not be too hard. If you feel that offering free consultations to selected lower-income clients is something you must do because you are moved by empathy, do so and do well. The fruits of your endeavors will be far sweeter, somewhere down the road.