Learn how to Get legal Clients to Say What they’re Really Thinking and Take Your Advice
One of the foundations of a successful client/lawyer relationship is honesty, but that doesn’t mean the client always says what they are thinking. We often find ourselves in a meeting where we’re working our hardest to get a client the best outcome, but you can feel there is something they aren’t sharing that might be pivotal to their case. These are the times we wish we can read the client’s mind.
If, for example, your client is in the process of negotiating a business deal or a divorce settlement, it’s essential to have all the facts when advising their subsequent actions. For various reasons, it is sometimes hard to get a truthful opinion from your client. The problem is that you can’t always tell your client that you think they are not being 100% honest.
In these situations, it’s helpful to have a few tools at your disposal to help you get your client to say precisely what they are thinking. Although you won’t be able to read your client’s mind, there are techniques that you can apply to help you to reveal they’re true feelings.
Use Psychology to your advantage with legal clients
You can set your clients at ease and encourage them to say precisely what they are thinking by using two simple psychology principles.
Humans need consistency in their thinking. For example, if you want to know if your client agrees with a specific clause in the agreement and they say yes, but you sense they are not being 100% honest, don’t say, “Are you sure?”. They want to be consistent, they will say yes, and you will be none the wiser.
By framing your follow-up questions in a certain way, you will get the client to say more about their thoughts. So, in your response, allow them to expand on their approval. “That’s good; how can we make it even better for you?” or “Is there anything we can add or take out that would make it more suitable for you?”
This way, you create continuity, and as your client answers, you will get a better idea of what they want in the clause. The answers will merely be extensions of what they already said.
People often do or say what they think is expected of them. When you’re gathering information to understand the context of the negotiation or settlement, be sure to frame your questions in a way that lets your client feel that they can still do “what’s expected.”
If, for example, in a divorce settlement or a parenting agreement, you’re trying to find out more about the other party’s character or conduct, your client may feel uncomfortable speaking ill of them for fear of looking like a bad person.
So instead of asking, “Is your ex a good parent?” You can ask, “Is there something we can add to the parenting agreement that would be better for the children?” or “do you have suggestions around visitation that would be better?” Now the focus is away from the other parent, and your client doesn’t have to speak badly of the ex-spouse. Questions like “what could either party has done differently to avoid a certain situation?” create the opportunity for your clients to speak their minds without badmouthing the other person.
The answers you get should indicate what type of person or situation you are dealing with and how to structure the agreements in your client’s best interest. By making suggestions focusing on the children, your client doesn’t have to feel like they are speaking negatively of the other parent.
You will find out exactly what your client is thinking and what they want in the agreement, and they will be more comfortable answering honestly with the focus away from their ex-spouse. They can still be the good people society expects them to be.
Getting the legal client to take your advice
Now that you have all the information, the next step is making sure your client follows the advice you give them. There are a few ways to guide them into taking your advice.
- Appeal to emotions
Clients are emotional creatures. While they may think they are strictly logical when it comes to legal issues, the reality is that our emotions always play a role in our decision-making. If you want to persuade your client to follow your advice, you need to arouse the correct emotions.
The client must be happy or satisfied with the outcome. Tell your client why it is a good outcome and why they should be satisfied. For example, “this settlement puts you exactly where you wanted to be.” The client will feel a sense of achievement and satisfaction and be happy to take your advice.
- Make it easy to process your advice
Your clients can only be happy or satisfied if they understand your advice. Complicated and confusing advice is a barrier to decision and action-taking. It would help if you made your advice simple and straightforward for the clients to efficiently process what they need to do and how to do it. When something is easy for your client to understand, they will feel more comfortable making the desired decision.
- Provide a game plan
Studies show that you will be even more effective if, after arousing positive emotions, you provide a specific plan of action for your solution. Whilst your client is happy with the solution that you suggested, explain the path forward. If the client understands what to expect next, they will feel more secure and more likely to take your advice. You’ve provided them with the desired outcome; now explain how to get there.
For example, by adding “all we need to do is get the other party to sign, get the bank to agree, and then you should receive your money by the end of next week,” the client will be more likely to take your advice.
- Apply the law of inertia
Once an object is in motion, it tends to stay in motion. This principle of physics applies to human behavior as well. If your client is hesitating to take the final steps in following your advice, remind them that they started the process by coming to you for your assistance; they agreed with your suggestions along the way. The way to keep moving in the right direction is to take the advice they came for to complete the process.
- Point out the negative consequences if they don’t accept your advice
Explaining how your advice will prevent negative consequences from occurring will help in persuading your client to take your advice. If your suggested solution means that your client will get an excellent exchange rate on the deal if they sign the agreement immediately, point out that a delay could mean a less favorable exchange rate that could cost a significant amount of money if the deal is not finalized now. Suddenly, the client has something to lose if they don’t take your advice. Usually, this is an excellent motivator to take advice.
- Set a deadline
People tend to act when there is a deadline. They are more likely to make a choice quickly. A deadline tells clients that they can’t wait around for better conditions. If they don’t take your considered advice now, they may lose the advantage, or the opportunity to act at all.
Mistakes to avoid with legal clients
- Don’t be a “know it”
No one likes a “know it”, and no one likes to take advice from one. Although your client will expect you to know the law, they want to feel that they are part of the process. They need to know that you are human and that you are open to listening to their input. If you’re a good listener they will perceive you as more credible and be more comfortable following your advice.
- Don’t “force” your client into making a decision
Human nature tends to make people move in the opposite direction if they feel forced into doing something. The client must feel that they have the final say. Remind your client that they were part of the process. Along the way, make sure that they agree with you or that it was their idea. If the client feels that they are part of the process, following your advice will be a natural progression.
In following these tips and principles, it should be easier to find out exactly what your client thinks and get them to accept your advice. Keeping in mind that if your client trusts you, they are far more likely to open up to you and to follow your advice. Finally, it’s worth remembering that enthusiasm is contagious. If you are excited about the advice, your client is more likely to be excited as well.