Mastering client counseling

Being an effective counselor is the most important aspect of my job, as it fosters a healthy dialogue, realistic expectations and trust with my clients. Here are five things I do to ensure a good relationship with my clients.

1. Set the stage. Help your client establish his or her ultimate goal -find out your client’s endgame. Establishing your client’s goal will allow two things: (a) the perfect opportunity for you to discuss realistic expectations and pros/cons; and (b) it will help you keep your client’s eye on the prize if there comes a time when rational judgment gets clouded by emotion.

2. Listen. As much as lawyers love to hear themselves talk, listen more and talk a little less. Forbes.com has a great article on perfecting your active listening skills.

3. Empathize. It is easy to become desensitized from the profession. I try to overcome this by constantly imagining myself in my client’s shoes and I verbally acknowledge what my client is going through. Although I do not think a client expects a lawyer to relate to the problem, I do think a client expects a lawyer at least to acknowledge and be sympathetic when counseling them, regardless of how big or small their legal issue may be.

4. Stay Accessible. TheLawyerCoach.com lists “not returning calls” in its Top 10 Things that Irritate Clients Most. Maintaining a harmonious relationship with your client is important because it will help your client’s ability to trust you as their counselor. Would you follow the advice of someone that irritates the heck out of you with poor professionalism?

5. Become good at delivering bad news. One of the most difficult parts of the job can be delivering bad news to a client and counseling them through it. I typically deliver bad news through a process. First, I reflect on the posture of their case. Second, I review the facts and evidence. Third, I explain the law. Fourth, I discuss the problem (i.e. the bad news). Fifth, I find the silver lining. The Lawyerist offers a great article on the art of delivering bad news.

The ABA has its own guide to client counseling, which it calls “Bedside Manner for Lawyers.” Do you have any tips of your own? Leave them in the comments below.