Associates need to be able to do the legal work, of course. But that’s just part of the package and, in many practice areas, it’s not the most important part of their skill set. Associates who are weak on the soft skills won’t make it. They won’t be good at client contact, and that’s where the rubber meets the road.
Here’s what they need to know. You’re probably going to have to teach them these 10 skills:
1. How to Talk to Clients
Few young lawyers come equipped for intense client conversations. You’re going to have to model this for them and then coach them as they do it themselves. Being good with clients comes naturally for only a very limited number of associates. Hire for this skill, and then take them to the next level by working with them after each conversation.
2. How to Talk to Clients More Often
Associates want to believe that one conversation is enough. They don’t understand the necessity of ongoing communication and the requirement to repeat the same messages over and over. They don’t value the importance to the client of knowing that the lawyer is engaged and involved. You’ll have to push them to communicate more frequently.
3. That Calling Clients Is Better Than E-Mailing
Associates want to believe that e-mail is sufficient. It’s not. Clients pay for and expect the sound of our voices when the issue is important to them. They want to know what we think, and they want to be able to feel our connection to the issue. Teach them that voice is superior to text.
4. Why Meeting With Clients Is Better Than Calling
The phone is good, but being in the same room is even better. Teach your associates the value of an in-person meeting.
5. How to Think Like a Client
It’s amazing how quickly lawyers take on the lawyer perspective and abandon the client perspective. We quickly see things from experience and lose our beginner's mind. Of course, your clients don't fully understand the situation and lack objectivity. Lawyers need to be reminded to plug into the mind-set of clients who will only go through this once.
6. How to Address Buyer’s Remorse
They got a good deal. They signed off on it and, of course, now they regret it. They’re filled with second thoughts. Experienced lawyers expect buyer’s remorse. Associates need to be taught to expect it and manage it proactively.
7. When to Let Clients Do What They Want to Do
Sometimes clients need to be permitted to do something stupid. The best example comes up when they want to litigate an issue they’re going to lose. Sometimes it’s not worth spending emotional capital to reel them in. Sometimes it's better to let them screw up and pay the price. Teach your associates when it’s okay to let clients learn the hard way and when they need to drive clients in the right direction.
8. How to Listen Like They Care
Listening is hard, especially when you’ve been doing it all day. Sometimes you’ve got to take a break and just “look” like you’re listening. You’ve refined that skill, but your associates haven't had a chance to figure out how that works. Teach it.
9. How to Build Trust
Trust comes from managing expectations, listening, and delivering more than you promised. Be very overt in teaching your associates how to build trust. Don’t hesitate to give specific examples of underpromising and overdelivering. Show them how it’s done.
10. How to Spend Trust
Explain what to do with the trust you’ve earned when it’s time to resolve the case. Show them how to use the trust to get things done and bring the matter to conclusion. Demonstrate how you expend the emotional bank account to get clients to do what’s in their best interest and wrap things up.
Your associates can learn to do the legal work over time. They’ll figure things out as they go, and they can attend continuing education programs and learn even more. However, these 10 skills are something you’re going to have to model and teach.