Clients are the lifeblood of the legal profession. We all came to this profession to solve problems and help people. Our clients are those people. They are imperative to the sustainability and efficacy of our profession. As a result, we must consistently seek to meaningfully understand what clients want and how we can best serve their needs.
The Institute For The Advancement of the American Legal Profession (IAALS) recently released an evidence-based report to illuminate clients' preferences, needs, and expectations when working with their attorneys. The report, entitled Think Like a Client, analyzed nearly 700,000 Avvo client reviews, compiled from 2007 to 2017 to paint a picture of what clients value in their lawyers—and the results reveal that clients value so much more than just traditional legal skills.
The report breaks down the five most prominent themes that emerged from the analysis of client reviews:
1. Clients want lawyers who are effective communicators.
2. Clients want lawyers who exhibit professionalism.
3. Clients want to feel that they are getting value for service.
4. Clients want an effective lawyer.
5. Clients want a lawyer who will work diligently and persistently to achieve their goals.
While none of these themes is all that surprising, they each have something very important in common. These outcomes confirm that lawyers need more than just legal skills to be successful.
As practitioners, it is simply not enough to be a competent and effective lawyers. To meet the needs of our clients, we must be dynamic, professional, customer service oriented, and most of all human. With all due respect to legal education, law schools' ability to generate "human beings" as opposed to "critically thinking paid worriers" is limited.
How then can we effectively meet the very human needs of our clients and become the multifaceted practitioners they want?
The answer is mentoring. Much has been written on the benefits of mentoring to generate competent legal practitioners. We must now examine how mentoring can be leveraged to develop competent AND human legal practitioners.
Good Legal Mentoring Humanizes Lawyers. At the foundation of any effective helping relationship is empathy. Good legal mentors recognize the power of accepting another lawyer as a developing person and professional. Accepting mentors do not judge or reject mentees as being poorly prepared, overconfident, naive, or defensive. Rather, should mentees exhibit such characteristics, good mentors simply view these traits as challenges to overcome in their efforts to deliver meaningful support. In humanizing one another through mentoring, we can better reflect on the qualities of effective helpers, understand the problems and concerns of others, and engender a more accepting disposition toward clients and colleagues alike.
Good Legal Mentoring is effective in different interpersonal contexts. Good lawyer mentors recognize that each mentoring relationship occurs in a unique, interpersonal context. Just as good teachers adjust their teaching behaviors and communications to meet the needs of individual students, good mentors adjust their mentoring communications to meet the needs of individual mentees. To make such adjustments, mentors must possess deep understanding of their own communication styles. In teaching one another to better understand our communication styles and challenges, we can use such self-knowledge and gain insight into our leadership styles and how those styles impact our relationships with our clients.
Good Legal Mentoring Makes Us Continuous Learners. Good lawyer mentors are transparent about their own search for better answers and more effective solutions to their clients’ problems. They model this commitment by their openness to learn from colleagues, including new lawyers, and by their willingness to pursue professional growth through a variety of means. They lead and attend CLEs. They develop and experiment with new practices. They write and read articles in professional publications. Most important, they share new knowledge and perplexing questions with their colleagues in a collegial manner. In committing to continuous learning, we can generate more opportunities to participate in high-quality professional-growth experiences that can enhance our competency as practitioners and provide value to our clients.
Good Legal Mentoring Communicates Hope and Optimism. The crucial characteristic of mentors is the ability to communicate their belief that a person is capable of transcending present challenges and of accomplishing great things in the future. Good legal mentors capitalize on opportunities to affirm the human potential of their mentees. They do so in private conversations and in public settings. Good legal mentors share their own struggles and frustrations and how they overcame them. And always, they do so in a genuine and caring way that engenders trust. When we can inspire hope and optimism in one another, we can better communicate hope and optimism to our clients – a trait that will allow us to exude kindness, courtesy, professionalism, and diligence on behalf of our clients.
The process of becoming the lawyers our clients want us to be starts by becoming the mentors our colleagues need us to be! Through good legal mentoring, we can develop the interpersonal skills and characteristics our clients value.
Check out the IAALS Think Like a Client report and consider how you can use a good legal mentor in your life to embody the skills your clients value and respect.