Great food for thought on the Non Billable Hour on understanding clients.
The headline was “Are your clients really stupid?”.
Wait, wait. Hear him out.
The answer isn’t what you’re tempted to respond.
Matt Homann, who describes himself as a recovering lawyer, adapted to lawyering a piece from the Bay Area tech world, suggesting that differences of opinions among co workers are more often due to different thinking process, biases and emotions than native intelligence.
Homann added these questions to ask as you think about communication problems with clients.
- Are they afraid of the conclusion? Maybe it threatens their work, their reputation, or their self-esteem.
- Are environmental stresses degrading their judgment? Time pressure or having your career on the line can make it hard to do your best work.
- Are they intimidated by you? Are they swamped by emotions of insecurity that make it hard to think. You may be unwittingly shutting them down, which begins a vicious cycle. Tone it down.
Analyzing bankruptcy clients
Our bankruptcy prospects are so often afraid of the conclusion that bankruptcy is a good choice for them.
Or rather, they are afraid of the conclusions they draw about bankruptcy as failure. Or fear of the unknown that is life after bankruptcy.
We certainly see clients too stressed to think rationally. They’ve lived in a stew of creditor pressures and self-flagellation for too long. Part of our job is reducing that stress enough that other concerns and other outcomes can be considered.
If we are intimidating our clients, that’s a barrier to communication that we can fix, without help from the client. Our ability to listen to the client ought to be as well developed as our ability to expound on the law.
I have heard now from a number of clients who’ve come to me after engaging another local lawyer. Each reported that he controlled the conversation and cut off questions. There was no reaching out to the humans across the desk, who had concerns, doubts, and fears. The most recent refugees from his office marvelled that I listened to them before talking myself.
We as bankruptcy lawyers are stupid if we don’t practice empathy. The stakes for our clients of impaired communication are too great.
Image courtesy of fisher.osu.edu.