Think like a lawyer. This is pretty much the first thing that you are told to do in your very first 1L class. It is essential to surviving law school exams, oral arguments, brief-writing competitions, and any required writing classes. Thinking like a lawyer becomes so essential to how your brain works and how you function throughout law school that, just like Steve Rogers morphing into Captain America after being injected with the super serum, you really do morph into a lawyer by the time you finally become licensed to practice law.
What your 1L professors fail to warn you about is that by allowing your brain to be consumed by the “think like a lawyer” mantra, you risk losing your ability to see things from the perspective of an average person. This inability to relate to your client, and see the situation from their perspective, is part of why there are so many derogatory jokes made about lawyers. In order to combat this negative perception, and make your clients like you even before you win their case for them, you should make a concerted effort to think like a client.
- Cultivate a Good Bedside Manner
The first step in learning to think like a client is to consider your “bedside manner.” This is a phrase often used to describe how doctors interact with patients, but it can also be applied to lawyers interacting with clients. Just like doctors, we frequently deal with people coming to us when they have a serious problem or are in the midst of a crisis. While you do want to maintain an authoritative presence, as you are the expert when it comes to resolving your client’s issue, you need to make sure that they know that you actually understand the impact that the issue is having on their life, whether they are going through an unexpected and messy divorce or they are coping with being badly injured in a car accident.
To that end, a little sympathy goes a long way with people. This is something that you probably appreciate on a regular basis without realizing. Most attorneys would be very grateful when a courtroom bailiff helps them carry in and set up exhibits for a trial because there are far too many blown-up photos. Being sympathetic to your client will not only reassure them that you see them not just as a paycheck, but it will also have the added benefit of persuading them to trust you. A client who trusts you is a happy client, and a happy client is a client who is more likely to let you run the case as you need to instead of trying to control every aspect.
- Translate for Your Client
The second most important thing you can do is speak to your clients in terms that they can actually understand. We lawyers often joke about how we speak a second language called Legalese. However, the truth is that the practice of law really does have its own language, as proven by the existence of Black’s Law Dictionary.
Think back to the very first case book reading assignment that you had. It was probably very confusing because of all of the legal terms. That confusion and cluelessness toward legal terms is exactly what your client is experiencing when you start rattling off phrases such as “statute of limitations” and “admissible evidence.” If you take the time to explain confusing legal phrases or explain everything in layman’s terms, you will not only get rid of your client’s confusion, but you will also help put them at ease.
- Know Your Practice Area from Your Client’s Perspective
Finally, it is important to know your practice area, not from the perspective of a lawyer, but from the perspective of the average client. Being able to see things from the average client’s perspective will help you with really being able to understand your client and where they are coming from. Would you rather have a plastic surgeon who only focuses on the technical process of performing rhinoplasty without any real thought to what prompted you to get the surgery in the first place and what will happen when the rhinoplasty is complete, or would you prefer a plastic surgeon who can also envision how your nose will look after the surgery and how your new nose will improve your life?
This can be achieved through simply finding out the details surrounding your client’s situation, with the knowledge that they are probably not your only client who has been in that same exact situation. You can also get to know other types of professionals in your field, such as insurance adjusters who handle car insurance or accountants for corporations, or attend events and conferences related to your practice that your client would attend on their own.
Thinking like a client once you are a lawyer may seem as scary as learning to think like a lawyer seemed when you were a brand new law student. However, by following these three points, you should have no problem being able to step into your client’s shoes and become the lawyer that your clients were hoping to find.
Authored by Kristen Johnson, LegalMatch Editor