Recently my 13-year-old daughter’s favorite response when I ask her more than two questions is “stop lawyering me.” According to her, depending upon the day, I ask her too many questions.
Her requests that I stop “lawyering her” have caused me to change my interactions with her and truly apply my “lawyering skills” to our conversations so that I can elicit the information that I am seeking. It turns out there are many interesting lessons that a trial lawyer can learn from their interactions with their kids and vice versa.
Don’t Expect Patience.
Honestly, how many lawyer-parents would describe their children or their clients as patient and really mean it? Children of all ages want their parents’ attention and time without delay. The same is true of clients, particularly clients that are involved in litigation and have little control over the process, an opposing party, opposing counsel and the decision maker(s). A determined trial lawyer needs to understand that his/her client is not likely to have consistent patience and therefore, it is very important to be responsive to their needs on a timely basis and sometimes that means immediately.
Communicate Clearly and Often.
How many of us have failed to effectively communicate with our children about what they need for a school project or what time they will be finished with a sporting event? It can certainly create havoc where havoc was unnecessary. Two-way clear communication is just as critical in the attorney-client relationship, and particularly so in business litigation. What is happening in litigation impacts a client’s business, and what is happening in the client’s business can impact the litigation. Communication must be two-way street. Sometimes, effective communication will mean communicating that nothing is happening at all. Just as clear and responsive communication is a necessity at home, it’s a necessity with clients.
Setting Expectations is Key.
In all relationships, setting expectations is important, but even more with clients in litigation. It is not unusual for me to be late (just a little) to my kids’ events. I noticed early on that being late might bother my kids so I sat them down and said, “kids, listen. Your mom has a lot to manage most days between work, volunteer activities and your activities. That means I will not always be on time for your events. I will be there, but please expect me to be late.” Two results occurred after this very simple expectation setting conversation. The first is that they do not worry, get angry or get anxious if I am late. They know I will be there. The second is when I am on time or even early, they are thrilled. Setting expectations with clients through clear and timely communication is even more important. Expectations should not be assumed. Many clients who are engaged in litigation know very little, if anything, about litigation. All clients, even those sophisticated in litigation, want to know what is expected to happen and when, and sometimes more importantly, what may not happen. Advising your client about what may or may not happen and when and following through on the expectations that have been set is necessary for a successful attorney-client relationship.