Professionals rightly put a lot of of focus on acquiring knowledge. The need to stay current is a constant pressure – new rules, laws and cases. It never stops. Combine the requirement to stay current with the relentless rush of practice and sometimes it's easy to forget the client point of view.
You can't see knowledge. What the client sees instead is a performance. Knowledge is the starting point, the pre-requisite. Knowledge gives you the right to sit in the room. To stay there – and to move ahead – you have to remember to perform. But what is it that the client wants to see? When they are actually asked to provide feedback in an organised and structured way, again and again, clients seem to focus on five things.
- Do you inspire trust and confidence? This is where the rubber hits the road for all that acquired knowledge – but is it being projected? In many ways this is the hallmark of the professional-client relationship. Clients need to feel this one.
- Are you responsive and available? This is a catch-22 for quality practitioners. The more successful and in demand you are, the busier you get and the less available you become. Some practitioners can still get the balance right. Or at least, give that impression.
- Are you a good communicator? Are you clear? Can you explain the complex, simply? Legal jargon doesn't help. The more a client understands, the more satisfied they'll be.
- Efficient comes up again and again. Or more particularly, inefficient. Inefficiency is a real bugbear for clients. In a world where you pay by the hour, the expectation is that those hours will be used in the most efficient way possible. Examples of re-work drive clients crazy, particularly if they feel they are paying twice.
- A successful professional in any field makes a strong connection with the client on a personal level. The stronger the connection, the more resilient the relationship. For family lawyers the word clients tend to use most often is empathy. The urge to feel that their lawyer genuinely cares is strong for many clients, but not necessarily all.
Of course, no two clients are alike – there are obvious differences in personalities, communication styles, understandings of the legal system, cognitive abilities and levels of emotional stress – so no two performances will be interpreted the same way. To really know what impact you're having, you have to ask. Is there a match between how you see your performance and how the client sees it? If you want to grow your practice, then your success depends on it.