For many years I have said lawyers focus too much on what they do and not nearly enough on what their clients need. How can you learn what your clients need? Put simply, if you do some research and listen intently, they will tell you.

In law school, you  were taught to

think like a lawyer.

Imagine if you had also been taught to

think like a client.

You would be in a far better position to help your clients. To “think like a client” you must work on being empathetic and walking in your clients’ shoes and you must build trust and rapport with them.

According to Wikipedia, empathy is defined as

one’s ability to recognize, perceive and feel directly the emotion of another.

For you, it is the ability to look at things from your client’s perspective. It is very important for you to understand how your client or client representative views the matter you are handling and what is important to them. Keep in mind that for a business client, your legal work is in the context of their business and for an individual client, your legal work is in the context of their life.

Habit Five, in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey, is:

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood..

That is a great habit for lawyers to follow. Covey points out that only a small percentage of people engage in empathetic listening. Most of us are figuring out what we will say instead of listening intently to what our clients are telling us.

Covey also urges readers to diagnose before prescribing. Far too many lawyers want to demonstrate their brilliance before the client has finished describing the situation.

How do you diagnose? We need to ask questions and listen intently. Here are some questions or statements you can use:

  • Tell me about…
  • What is it like…
  • Tell me more…
  • Help me understand…
  • Can you give me an example of…
  • How did you…
  • Bring me up to date on…

Sometimes your clients will tell you one thing, while their body language is telling us something different.

In his book “The Likeability Factor,” Tim Sanders points out that the first step to understanding how others feel is to recognize their emotions which, with practice, can be read on their faces long before they tell us how they feel. Sanders references the work of Dr. Paul Ekman and includes a quote:

Facial expressions, even quickly passing, signal emotional expression. The face is the mind’s involuntary messenger.

How can you build your empathy skill set?

There is plenty of information on the internet. I recently found a blog that included: 15 Questions to become more empathetic.