The Importance of Trust
There is no substitute for building trust with clients. It establishes open lines of communication, increases cooperation and ultimately drives the profitability of a law practice. Clients who trust their lawyer are eager to meet their lawyer’s needs, making the working relationship enjoyable for the lawyer and supporting staff. Yet, increasingly, I hear lawyers voice their frustration with the practice of law and specifically with clients who demand too much of their time, or clients who are not eager enough to support the lawyer in meeting the client’s objectives. A lack of trust or a breach of trust is often at the root of these problems.
Trust is Determined by the Client
Trustworthiness of the lawyer is a subjective determination made by the client. If this feels like a burden to lawyers, well, welcome to the practice of law. Another way to look at the subjectivity of this determination is that it’s an opportunity. A lawyer who believes that every interaction with a client will result in either building or diminishing trust looks for—and creates—opportunities to strengthen the relationship at every turn. Bankruptcy lawyers are no exception.
Bankruptcy clients are admittedly anxious and fearful. They don’t know who to trust. They’ve often been lied to and they’ve been told numerous stories. They feel like they are failing, which leads to embarrassment and often anger. To boot, they typically enter the lawyer-client relationship with a perception of lawyers that has the potential to be an ongoing barrier for both the lawyer and the client.
What’s a lawyer to do?
Rather than resent a client who is reluctant to give information or calls too often, try a different approach. Imagine what their experience must be like. Put yourself in their shoes. Actually connect with the anxiety that comes from a phone that won’t stop ringing; every caller a constant reminder of your failure to meet your obligations. You may not have gone through a bankruptcy, but surely you’ve been anxious, angry.
The next time you interact with a client, listen for cues to their emotional state. Does their tone of voice change when discussing a particular creditor or an upcoming financial hurdle? If so, use that as an opportunity to openly reflect that you have been thinking about them and their situation. Ask them how they are feeling. Guess at how they might feel. And then let them talk. You’ll be surprised by the results.
Trust can be built in the moment. These small pieces of a conversation take a minute, sometimes two minutes. As a result, the lawyer-client relationship is strengthened, and both parties benefit from it for the duration of the representation. A human connection is made. That connection inspires you to understand the client’s full range of needs, and inspires the client to do whatever it takes to assist you in getting the job done. It also happens to be an enjoyable way to practice law.
Chris Layton is a bankruptcy lawyer in Charlotte, NC with The Layton Law Firm, PLLC. He also writes and facilitates CLE for The Likeable Lawyer.
See also: Understanding Client Needs in Bankruptcy