Years ago I read The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, Charles H. Green and Robert F. Galford. It was one of the first books I had read that I felt really applied to lawyers.

I was so impressed that we formed a group of lawyers at my old firm who read the book together and met monthly to share ideas.  We actually captured our main takeaways in two PowerPoint presentations and shared those with other lawyers in the firm.

The Trusted Advisor

Let me share one example I found helpful:

In The Trusted Advisor the authors made a point that technical skills are not enough. You have to see the world from your clients point of view.

They quote Stephanie Wethered, an Episcopal priest who describes our ability to emphatically listen as being in direct relation to how closely we can feel what the other person feels. The authors then list 23 things that good listeners do. According to Maister, Green and Galford, they:

  1. Probe for clarification
  2. Listen for unvoiced emotions
  3. Listen for the story
  4. Summarize well
  5. Empathize
  6. Listen for what’s different, not for what’s familiar
  7. Take it all seriously (they don’t say, “You shouldn’t worry about that”)
  8. Spot hidden assumptions
  9. Let the client “get it out of his or her system”
  10. Ask “How do you feel about that?”
  11. Keep the client talking (“What else have you considered?”)
  12. Keep asking for more detail that helps them understand
  13. Get rid of distractions while listening
  14. Focus on hearing your version first
  15. Let you tell your story your way
  16. Stand in your shoes, at least while they’re listening
  17. Ask you how you think they might be of help
  18. Ask what you’ve thought of before telling you what they’ve thought of
  19. Look at (not stare at) the client as he or she speaks
  20. Look for congruity (or incongruity) between what the client says and how he or she gestures and postures
  21. Make it seem as if the client is the only thing that matters and that they have all the time in the world
  22. Encourage by nodding head or giving slight smile
  23. Are aware of and control their body movements (no moving around, shaking legs, fiddling with a paper clip)

These are great tips and just one reason The Trusted Advisor is well worth reading, and sharing ideas.

Over my career as I watched lawyers interact with clients and potential clients, I noticed that some lawyers failed to recognize what made each client and each client matter unique and different.

I noticed those lawyers failed to actively listened and tended to want to talk too much. What else did I notice about those lawyers?

  1. They rarely figured out their client’s needs.
  2. They typically wanted to show clients how smart they were.
  3. They were impatient and did not listen.
  4. They frequently finished their clients’ sentences.
  5. They were filled with war stories that usually involved dropping former clients’ names.

Picture the lawyer meeting with a client who says:

Let me interrupt you, Mr. Jones, and tell you what I think you should do. Your problem reminds me of the case I had for the XYZ Company and I was able to win that one by …

Client Pitch

How many times have you seen lawyers set the structure for their conversation with their client and not listen to his story and how it impacts his business?

In Trusted Advisor the authors mention that Ariel Group, a communications training firm, teaches the idea of “reflective listening,” followed by “supportive listening” followed by “listening for possibility.”

Examples are given for each: Reflective: “What I hear you saying . . . “ Supportive: “Gee that must be tough . . . “ Possibility: “So, what have you considered to be solutions . . . ?

Do you have a meeting scheduled with a client or potential client? What can you do to listen more effectively?


I am frequently asked how a lawyer can differentiate herself in her clients’ and potential clients’ eyes. Given that in any city there are many talented lawyers in each practice area, the question is a good one. Seth Godin might ask: How can you be “remarkable” in your clients’ and potential clients’ eyes?

To be “remarkable,” you must do things most other lawyers are not doing. Lawyers I coach are likely surprised when I tell them that the one skill that will easily differentiate them is how well they listen. Most lawyers don’t do it very well. Just suppose your clients were out there telling their colleagues and friends that you listen to her better than any other lawyer, what do you think would happen to your practice?

I have written about the importance of listening and a few months ago my friend Eric Fletcher wrote a guest post for me titled: Intentional Listening: How To Find Practice-Changing Opportunities.If you have time, go back and read what Eric wrote.

Recently I read: Communications: Are You Listening? I found that the Canadian Bar Association was focused on lawyers developing this skill:

The Canadian Bar Association’s Task Force on Legal Literacy identified improving lawyers’ listening skills as an important step toward improving the delivery of legal services to clients with literacy challenges. The average person spends at least 55% of the day listening. Why not do it more efficiently?

Take a look at the article because there are some good ideas on listening. I found a recent blog post titled: 5 Simple Ways To Be A Better Listener. If you actually commit to the 5 ideas, I am confident you will listen more effectively.

When lawyers I coach ask me for recommended books to read, one I frequently recommend is The Trusted Advisor  by David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford. The book includes a great chapter on The Art of Listening. In an earlier chapter the authors identify two problems I see in many lawyers:

The prime obstacle to focusing successfully on the other person (in our experience) is the apparently common belief that mastery of technical content is sufficient to serve clients well…

Another major obstacle is the inability to focus concentrated attention on the client. In the midst of a conversation with a client, we are likely to find ourselves with thoughts like, “How will I solve this problem?” “How will I get the client to buy this idea?” “What am I going  to say when the client finishes talking?” “How can I appear expert?”

I know the authors have it right. I have caught myself on more than one occasion having one or more of the very thoughts they describe.

At the end of their chapter on The Art of Listening, The authors list 23 things that good listeners do that make them good listeners and a second list with 10 things great listeners don’t do. Both of the lists are well worth studying.

Ok, I have given you lots of potential reading on the importance of listening and how to do it more effectively. I want to hear from you. What are you doing to become your clients’ best listener?


Traction Snow.jpgA senior partner may have told you that you will be successful by just doing good work and your satisfied clients will tell others. In 2011, do you think that just doing good work is enough?

I meet with many lawyers who are doing good work for their senior partner’s clients, but they have not gotten any traction on developing business of their own. The sad truth is that in 2011, word of mouth from doing good work does not travel fast enough or far enough.

When I started practicing law, I was told: “Selling yourself is unprofessional. If you do good work, business will follow.” That is how I started. I tried very hard to learn, become the best lawyer I could possibly be, and do the highest quality of work. I advise every young lawyer to approach their career in the same way.

I wasn’t aware at the time that there was more to client and business development than becoming a top notch lawyer and doing high quality work. I figured out I needed to focus less on what I did -litigation- and focus more on what clients need -avoiding litigation and/or resolving it promptly and economically.

I also discovered that client development is all about building relationships and understanding the client’s point of view. Each client and client representative is unique. They have unique goals, unique challenges and unique perspectives. When you build trust and rapport with your clients, you have the chance to become a “The Trusted Advisor.” (If you haven’t read Trusted Advisor, you should.)

So, here in a nutshell are my two discoveries:

  1. You have to do more than high quality work to develop business.
  2. Change your focus from you, and what you do, to focusing on your clients and what they need.