View Clients in Their Native Habitats
by Ed Poll
I recently read a newspaper story in which a doctor talked about her reaction when she happened to meet a patient at an airport where the patient worked. Out of the context of the examining room, the doctor was taken aback, at first not recognizing the patient. The experience of seeing the patent as an individual in a work environment gave the doctor an entirely new perspective on the person, even to the point of considering changes in treatment.
How often do we lawyers see our clients in their native habitats? What kind of information might we gather, informal and perhaps even unspoken, that would dramatically alter the advice we provide?
In many cases, quite a bit — yet not many lawyers take the time to visit clients and really get to know more about them, their work and family environments and the possible impact of legal advice on those aspects of their lives.
Clients do not need to be convinced of your or the firm's expertise, otherwise they would not have remained as clients. What they want is to feel comfortable with you as a professional. The best way to accomplish that is to get them to talk about themselves. Your client visit should focus on listening to what they have to say. The more they talk, the more you will learn about how you can meet their needs.
To make the initial approach to scheduling a visit, just say you want to come by, at no expense to the client, for a visit of several hours to learn more about what they do and what concerns them most.
Schedule the visit for a time that is most convenient for the client. When you meet, never put clients on the defensive. What you want are empathy and rapport.
Lawyers too often slip into adversarial questioning, but a visit to the client's habitat is conducive to a much more supportive approach. Develop a questioning hierarchy for the type of information you want to receive by using "SPIN," an acronym for four types of questions to ask:
None of the questioning is unusual or intensive. What makes it work is that you're doing it in the client's home base — at no charge — with no pitch for new business. The goal is a stronger relationship, and the client's habitat is the best place to forge it.
© Copyright 2011. Edward Poll. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from Edward Poll.
Ed Poll principal of LawBiz Management Company, is a nationally recognized coach, law firm management consultant, and author who has coached and consulted with lawyers and law firms in strategic planning, profitability analysis, and practice development. Mr. Poll has practiced law on all sides of the table for 25 years-- as a corporate general counsel, government prosecutor, sole practitioner, partner, and law firm chief operating officer and been a consultant to small and large law firms for 20 years.
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