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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Your Soft, Cuddly Self – A Lesson in Emotions

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Lawyers should use emotionsI’ve written about this a few times now – that connecting with your clients on an emotional level, as well as the logical, can offer a much greater avenue to connect with your clients and build trust.

It also, however, offers a chance to build better relationships with the team around you.

Principally I’ve talked about emotion in the context of Communication – an important (I would say critical) component of legal practice, in which we must be adept if we are going to thrive.  I’ve also talked about emotional connection in the context of how important it is to persuasion.

What I haven’t done much yet is to actually discuss emotional connection in any detail.  Just saying you need to do it might be great for those of you for whom ignorance was the problem, but many lawyers actually struggle to understand how to connect with people on an emotional level in a business context.  After all, the two seem to be at odds, right?  It’s not like we’re a counselling session for these people – we’re their lawyers!

However, being a lawyer is about serving people, and to serve those people you need to understand all of their facets, not just the facts and figures.  So let’s dive in and take a look at the value of emotional connections in legal practice.

The Cost of Emotional Ignorance

It’s a strange thing in the law, because we really don’t think much about emotions at all.  When we’re with our friends, we’re generally fine – after all, that’s a personal relationship.  But what about our boss, our colleagues, or co-workers?  Inability to identify and solve emotional problems in the context of a workplace can result in widespread issues which are nearly impossible to solve without somebody (or a lot of people) being fired in the process.  For the team to function, both the leaders and the participants need to be mindful of the part they play in the whole, not just enamoured with their own little circle and obsessed with the pure delivery of legal services.

Critically, what about our clients?  Through our studies we become attuned to facts, figures, and solutions.  However, it that actually how our client wants us to be?

It’s a leading question, obviously – the answer is no.  Of course clients want us to solve their various legal issues, and do the legal job astutely and efficiently.  But, in doing so, we can engage with our clients on a deeper level that makes them not only appreciate the value we offer them from a legal perspective, but the value we are offering on a personal perspective.  How do they feel after talking with you?

Poor emotional engagement on a business level will mean that your team suffers, you suffer, and you will consistently struggle to develop longer term relationships with clients.

What’s Involved?

What – do I look like a psychiatrist to you?  I’m not going to write about how you can get in touch with your inner self, or anything resembling it.

You already know how to respond emotionally to people.  You’ve been doing it for years, basically since you were born.  When your mother calls you up because you forgot to call your sibling for their birthday, I’ll be you know how to respond to that.  I bet you know how to treat your friends, be excited for their victories and commiserate with their losses.

So what’s involved in using emotions in your legal practice?  Simple: a conscious effort.

When the client comes in, what’s your first reaction?  Mine is to get facts, ask questions, and give them answers.  However, often what a client needs from you is more about them telling the story than you hearing it.  Yes, of course you will get to the legal issues, because that’s what you are being paid for.  But what about the other issues?  In particular in legal services, often the path the client wants to take is at odds with the path the law would encourage them to take.  Emotions like pride, love, guilt, fear, disgust, anger – these all impact upon the client’s decision making, and it’s your job to ensure that you are able to advise them in the context of those emotions, not just in the isolation of their facts.

But Time Costs Money Chris, or had you forgotten?

No I hadn’t forgotten.  Time is (quite literally, in most cases) money for lawyers.

But with that being true, what is your main goal?  If you’ve got you head on straight, your goal is to serve your client to the best of your ability within the boundaries of your duties.  Are you serving your client the best you can if you ignore these issues?  Can you possibly expect a client to come back to you if they feel like their story is only half told, and you cut them off with a 15 minute speech about torts?

You are part of a business development machine, as well as a legal one.  And clients come back to people they trust.  Trust is both emotional, and logical.  Don’t disregard the significant impact that an emotional response will have on client’s decision making, and you will have an opportunity to gain trust faster, better and for the longer term.

Developing relationships with your clients is a marathon, not a sprint.  So take the time to deliberately listen to and invest in the emotional aspect of your legal matters, and you will be doing yourself, your firm and your clients a big favour.

Happy Lawyering!




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  • Good article Chris. Too many attorneys either don’t get it or respond with the “time is money” argument you mentioned. What most don’t understand is that if they take the time to build those good relationships then they will make more money in the process as their clients will view them as a person and not a lawyer.

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