Compassionate Consultations, 0113 SCBJ, SC Lawyer, January 2014, #5

Author:Larry E. Lauterjung
 
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Compassionate Consultations

Vol. 24 Issue 4 Pg. 18

South Carolina BAR Journal

January, 2013

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0 Larry E. Lauterjung

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Winning Over Prospective Clients

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0You usually have one hour to sell yourself to prospective clients during the initial consultation. The key is to communicate your genuine understanding of, and concern for, the client's feelings. Building the proper relationship will help secure new clients, referrals, and friends. After 10 years in the school of hard knocks and 20 of high volume practice, I wish I could say I never met a client I didn't like. Years as a public defender and bankruptcy lawyer brought me every imaginable type of client. I didn't like them all, but I did treat each with respect, so that the few with abrasive personalities left my office enjoying the compassion the others earned.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0As attorneys we need to remember that most people who come to us are ashamed, scared, confused, and intimidated, and many are angry or even paranoid. Some have become passive, no longer taking steps to protect their best interests. Some are in legal trouble because of mental or emotional disabilities. In short, many would-be clients admit their problems are beyond their control and reluctantly see no solution other than to pay for legal help, even though their means are limited. Too many have reached the point of desperation before visiting a lawyer.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Sitting behind our line of demarcation—our desks—we can avoid the compassionate interaction these people need, but not without their perceiving our callousness. They know which lawyers care and which are condescending. Lawyers who communicate to prospective clients that they are too busy to care often find their client pool dwindling.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Don't let this happen to you. Here are ways to demonstrate caring and compassion as you interact with scared and vulnerable people.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Before the interview

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Icebreakers. You can put your prospective client at ease by how your office is decorated and arranged. Paintings, photographs, objects d'art—whatever you choose—can take the edge off the interview when either of you mention them.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Most law offices ask prospective clients to complete a "client information sheet" before the meeting. Never fail to read that information beforehand. When you say, "You work at Acme Industries, don't they make car batteries there?" your prospective client is comforted knowing you cared enough to read what he labored to write and that you know something about his life. That can set the tone for the rest of your representation.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Watching the clock (without seeming to).

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0As...

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