I don’t know about you, but I hate watching Presidential Debates.  Yet, if you learn nothing else, the candidates who do well in the debates convey they can be trusted to handle the problems the country is facing, they are the most likeable and they are empathetic.

First, let me share what I don’t like about the debates:

  • There are too many.
  • They are not debates at all, but rather staged events where each candidate waits for the opportunity to get into his answer the sound bite his handlers have told him will sway the voters.
  • Debaters don’t even answer the questions they have been asked.
  • One minute answers with 30 second responses is not enough time to address a question

In spite of all these shortcomings, you can learn a lot about attracting clients by watching these debates. In his book, The Likeability Factor, Tim Sanders writes:

You’ve Got to Be Believed, author Bert Decker points out that George Gallup has conducted a personality factor poll prior to every presidential election since 1960. Only one of three factors—issues, party affiliation, and likeability—has been a consistent prognosticator of the final election result: likeability.

If you have watched any of the debates, leave aside your political bias for a moment and answer these questions:

  • Which candidate is coming across in the debates as most likeable?
  • Which candidate is coming across in the debates as most competent?
  • Which candidate is coming across in the debates as most empathetic?

A self labelled progressive professor suggests that President Obama comes across as both likeable and empathetic. In, The Likeability And Empathy Factor In Presidential Politics, he states:

The average voter wants to LIKE a candidate on a personal level, and feel that the candidate cares about his or her life, shows empathy toward the circumstances of one’s life.

I found it interesting that the professor left out competence as a factor. Maybe it is because it is the least important. So called experts say: “Obama Plan: Destroy Romney.” Does he run the risk of being less likeable? Will that matter?

In 2007, Hillary Clinton was perceived as more competant than Barrack Obama, but according to surveys Obama was 35% more likeable than Hillary Clinton. Now surveys show that Hillary Clinton is the most popular politician. I bet she would easily win in 2012 and I wonder what has made her so popular now.

So, what can learn from the presidential debates? Like voters, clients want to do business with lawyers they know like and trust and who empathetically understand their problems. Like voters, clients will be comparing you to others. One final thing: I don’t believe clients will want to hire you if you “bad mouth” other lawyers. So a strategy based on “destroying” your competitor will not likely succeed.