When you hire an associate fresh out of law school, you probably teach them how your firm operates and what they should do to succeed in it.
But do you tell them the things that really matter? Like the best place to park at the courthouse? Where the restroom is located at the deeds office?
And how to respond if a client crosses a line by asking for money – or a date?
These are areas that beg for instruction. New hires already know the law. They’ve spent the last three years getting their brains stuffed with it.
Now what they need to learn are the things not taught in law school.
- How to talk to clients. Rosen says new graduates are often unprepared for intense client conversations. “You’re going to have to model this for them and then coach them as they do it themselves,” he writes. “Being good with clients comes naturally for only a very limited number of associates. Hire for this skill, and then take them to the next level by working with them after each conversation.”
- How to talk to clients more often. “They don’t understand the necessity of ongoing communication and the requirement to repeat the same messages over and over. They don’t value the importance to the client of knowing that the lawyer is engaged and involved. You’ll have to push them to communicate more frequently.”
- That calling clients is better than e-mailing. “Associates want to believe that e-mail is sufficient. It’s not. Clients pay for and expect the sound of our voices when the issue is important to them. They want to know what we think, and they want to be able to feel our connection to the issue.”
- Why meeting with clients is better than calling. “The phone is good, but being in the same room is even better.”
- How to think like a client. “It’s amazing how quickly lawyers take on the lawyer perspective and abandon the client perspective. We quickly see things from experience and lose our beginner’s mind. Of course, your clients don’t fully understand the situation and lack objectivity. Lawyers need to be reminded to plug into the mind-set of clients who will only go through this once.”
- How to address buyer’s remorse. “They got a good deal. They signed off on it and, of course, now they regret it. They’re filled with second thoughts. Experienced lawyers expect buyer’s remorse. Associates need to be taught to expect it and manage it proactively.”
- When to let clients do what they want to do. “Sometimes clients need to be permitted to do something stupid. The best example comes up when they want to litigate an issue they’re going to lose. Sometimes it’s not worth spending emotional capital to reel them in. Teach your associates when it’s okay to let clients learn the hard way and when they need to drive clients in the right direction.”
- How to listen like they care. “Listening is hard, especially when you’ve been doing it all day. Sometimes you’ve got to take a break and just ‘look’ like you’re listening. You’ve refined that skill, but your associates haven’t had a chance to figure out how that works. Teach it.”
- How to build trust. “Trust comes from managing expectations, listening, and delivering more than you promised. Don’t hesitate to give specific examples of underpromising and overdelivering.”
- How to spend trust. “Explain what to do with the trust you’ve earned when it’s time to resolve the case. Show them how to use the trust to get things done and bring the matter to conclusion. Demonstrate how you expend the emotional bank account to get clients to do what’s in their best interest and wrap things up.”
What are some things you tell your new associates? What do you wish you had been told? Send us a comment.
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Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney who has practiced North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.