Earning Trust

The term “trusted advisor” has, justifiably, been used as the goal of many legal practitioners now for some time.  It is a status, a perception, a relationship indicator with clients as to how lawyers want to be seen.

Yet many may state that they are (or want to be) a trusted advisor without pausing to think precisely what that means, and having a strategy in place to establish and earn trust with clients, co-workers and supervisors.

Today I thought I’d set out some musings on earning trust, and how we can go about it in our practises.

Tip 1 – Don’t say “Trust me, I’m a lawyer”

Trust can’t be claimed or demanded.  It must be earned by one, and given by the other.  Trust can be earned through a simple gesture, or a series of simple gestures.  A telephone call to see how something went, or is going.  A short email or text to check up on someone and see how they are travelling.  The provision of some occasional free advice or information that you thought would be to somebody’s benefit.  These are all ways of gradually earning trust.  Over time, initial cynicism that you are just trying to “play” the client will fade as they realise that you are genuinely interested in their business/life/travels/whatever.

Tip 2 – Trust is partly rational and partly emotional

Don’t underestimate emotions.  Recently on communication I wrote a reminder to us all that logic is only one part of communication.  So it is with trust.  Although it might be logical to trust somebody, emotions often play a role in that.  Your efficacy as a trusted advisor is not only contingent on your superior legal knowledge and dissemination.  It’s contingent on your ability to have a trusting relationship with you client, which often requires hard yards in the emotional area.

Tip 3 – Trust Requires Risk

There is no such thing as risk-free trust.  It always involves a component of letting go, of believing that another person has the knowledge, understanding and competence to do something that you give to them.  It is that risk which both indicates trust, but also builds it.  Think about the trust of a partner who delegates work to a junior.  They are trusting them to do it.  What about a first Court appearance?  Trust there.

If you don’t get the occasional fear in the pit of your stomach then you’re operating in a comfort zone, which probably means your trust levels are a little low.

Tip 4 – Trust Varies Between People

Although trust is a two-way street, the experience of trust in professional services is different for the advisor than it is for the client.  One person trusts, and the other is trusted.  Ambiguity here can lead to issues where the role of each is unclear, or is constantly shifting.  Ultimately as the advisor your role is to be trusted, not the other way around.

The corollary here is this:  just because you trust others, does not mean that you yourself can be trusted.

Tip 5 – Trust Grows

Trust grows over time.  The level of trust varies, waxes and wanes on given topics and on given occasions.  Your goal over the long term as an advisor to a client is to be trusted by that client for as many things as possible, to the highest degree possible.  However that won’t happen overnight.  They might trust you with litigation, but not with conveyancing.  They might trust you to write a letter but not appear in Court.  Maybe they trust you with business but nothing personal.

Trust grows over time, provided you continue to earn it properly.

Be Trustworthy

That’s all we have for today.  Go now, and be trustworthy.  Earn your client’s trust with an honest, deliberate and consistent approach.

Go any other tips on how you develop trust with your clients?  Why not let me know in the comments.

Happy Lawyering!


  • Thanks Chris,

    I think #2 is one of the hard one’s for attorneys. We’re not always the best at dealing with people in an irrational mindset (especially at the beginning of a case). Being understanding with the client can go light years in terms of getting them to follow the attorney’s advice.

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