For lawyers, trust is everything.
Lawyers need for clients to trust them, or else they can’t help them. They want judges to trust them, or else they can’t persuade them. Pretty basic math.
What’s the key to building trust?
A diploma from a fancy law school, hanging on the wall behind your desk? A 5 star rating from some service that most clients have never heard of?
Those things might help, but they’re not fundamental. If they were, then having them would mean that most clients would automatically trust you.
Flip the question around: what thwarts trust?
What makes clients not reveal their dirty secrets? You know, the ones that come out eventually at the least opportune time. Why don’t clients fully trust you and wind up sabotaging their case as a result?
Well, don’t take it personally. Revealing unsavory or embarrassing facts is a supreme act of vulnerability.
All humans fear being vulnerable. We all fear that people will think less of us if we admit our shortcomings.
Gaining trust means dealing with human instincts.
Remember when you were just a human being? Before law school lobotomized you into becoming what you are now.
Maybe it wasn’t so much law school, as just spending too much time around other lawyers. Lawyers who’d sooner gulp gasoline than display even a trace of vulnerability.
Those lawyers have developed rote approaches that are built on the fear of being vulnerable. Here are three that stand out.
- Never admit you’re wrong: The judge I worked for was feared by most lawyers, but whenever a lawyer slipped into “human mode” and admitted a mistake, the judge quickly shifted from adversarial to accommodating. Good judges want to be compassionate if given a good opportunity.
- Never offer a real opinion: Most “opinion letters” are devoid of meaningful opinions. Some business clients want an opinion letter to cover their ass, and then they might not mind if you cover yours too. But many clients just want you to give them practical advice, without hedging.
- Always distrust the opponent: Most cases settle, so the odds are overwhelmingly high that you’ll have to negotiate with the other side in the end. It’d probably help negotiations if you had a good rapport with your opponent; although obviously you aren’t going to concede key points just to get the case resolved.
Balancing caginess with diplomacy.
No doubt about it. You have a difficult balancing act.
Some clients will try to make you scapegoat. Most lawyers will try to take advantage of you. And some mean, stupid judges will bully you.
But, always being suspicious and adversarial isn’t the answer. You need to be strategic, and tailor your response to each unique situation.
Finding the right balance is often difficult. In seeking to strike that balance you’ll probably feel vulnerable.
But that’s okay; you’re human right?
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