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When you don’t have the answer to a client’s question

generation-jd-jessica-markhamClients come to us seeking our wisdom, legal insight and strategy and because in short they need help! When they come to us they need to feel that we have their case under control, that we are looking out for their best interest and we know what we are doing.

I remember how many years I felt as though I did not know what I was doing. How do you reconcile these two sentiments?

For the rest of your legal career there will always be times that you don’t know the answer to a question. Sometimes the questions you can’t answer are big and sometimes they are small. Frankly, clients don’t always know the difference between the two. You need to know when to ask for help from senior attorneys, of course, but when and how do you admit to the client that you don’t have all the answers?

I think that people can smell a lack of authenticity. People know when you’re BS-ing them. Remember that clients don’t necessarily expect you to have every answer to every question off the top of your head. I frequently hear the term “client control.“ I take that to mean that the client listens to you and takes your advice. The client doesn’t overly question you or mistrust you.

I think the best way to gain this “client control” which I prefer to refer to as client trust, is to be open and honest at all times. Do not feel the need to pretend that you have the answers even when you don’t because you’re too focused on your ego. Here are some acceptable responses to client questions that you cannot answer:

  • That’s really interesting. I need to think about that a little bit more. Let me loop back to you.
  • You know I haven’t encountered this exact fact pattern before. I’m going to have to do a little bit of research and let you know.
  • I don’t recall that off the top of my head. After we get out of this meeting, I’m gonna look it up and I’ll send you an email.

Clients will trust you only when you’re honest with them.