The Practice of Law

Away “On Business”

Legal clients tend not to know the law, so they cannot judge their lawyer on how well they know their stuff.  Instead, they judge them on things that they do understand. Chief among those will be how they communicate.

In the picture that accompanies this post you will see a rather nice-looking boat which is named “On Business.”

The owner explained to me that a business owner originally owned the boat. On a Friday afternoon in the summer, his receptionist was overheard telling clients that her boss was “out on his boat.”  He was having none of that, so he changed the name of the boat and instructed her to tell those Friday afternoon callers that he was “away on business.”

I cannot vouch for all of the details in this story, but it does have a ring of truth to it.

My very first boss, who by the time that I had joined the firm had not seen the inside of a courtroom for many years, instructed our receptionist that whenever he was unavailable to take a call, she should tell the caller that he was “in court.” That was kind of dishonest and I do not recommend that approach. But at least he was conscious of the message that he was sending.

I met way too many lawyers who had no clue of the impact of their communication style on everyone who they dealt with.

There was the litigator who insisted that clients would just understand that if he could not call them back for two weeks he must have a very good reason, such as being in a trial. They would be happy to wait for him, he thought. He had no significant client base but could not figure out why.

There was the corporate lawyer whose voicemail always said that he was in a meeting, no matter the time of day or night. He could not understand why clients kept calling him over and over trying to catch him in the office rather than just leaving a message.

There was the law firm partner who introduced his associates in a manner which made it very clear that they were just there to help him and could not be trusted to think on their own. He was always overwhelmed with work because his clients only wanted to speak to him.

And then there was the new client that I brought in because everything his old firm did took too long and cost too much. He liked the Associate that did all of the work, but he had figured out that the Associate was not allowed to sign any of the letters or send any of the emails. Everything sat on the Partner’s desk until he could send it out, take credit for the work, and docket for reviewing it. I guess that the Partner did not want the Associate to develop any big ideas about client origination credits. Well, at least he did not have to worry about who was going to get future credit for that client, because that would be me.

Everything that you say, do, write, email, or text says something about you. When it comes to client relationships, it usually comes down to one of two messages. Either “hire me” or “hire someone else.” 

What does your messaging say?

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