This week Attorney at Work re-published a “classic” (i.e. 2012) post by Gerry Riskin on “Five Things Lawyers Hate to Hear Clients Say.” This post lays out some predictable, potentially recurring situations where communication is sensitive and can easily go awry. These situations certainly deal with classic challenges to lawyer-client relationships such as setting retainers, delegating work, identifying additional work, and dealing with an unhappy client.
Riskin says he’s not offering any scripts although the post does offer some ideas on language that might be a good start. He also qualifies that the post assumes the lawyer in these situations is in fact offering excellent service of unsurpassed quality. The idea is to anticipate challenging situations that arise even when the lawyer does provide great service and to handle them with tact. Part of this, of course, is listening and not getting defensive.
This post caught my interest because it’s not a “top-down” approach to listening. Instead of laying out general techniques and then applying them, it is structured around very specific situations where communication and client relationships are challenging. This seems more interesting to lawyers who don’t care about listening in an abstract sense but do want to have better experiences than the stressful situations they’ve encountered with clients.
Focusing just on specific situations—the ones listed in Riskin’s post or whichever situations are most likely to arise in a particular lawyer’s practice—should certainly help a lawyer maintain client relationships. The opposite strategy, reacting in the moment without much thought and doing the same thing over and over, seems quite likely to yield less-than-optimal listening and client relationships.
Of course it’s also true that incredible communication skills may not fix a problem caused by other factors such as the economics of law practice. Those are issues for other blogs, but it seems pretty clear that incredible or at least reasonably strong communication skills are helpful in these situations.
Did Riskin capture the universally common situations that “lawyers hate to hear”? Which ones would you add to his list?