When selecting an attorney, clients search not only for niche experience, but also for empathy. They want to know that their attorney cares and is willing to fight for their best interests. Attorneys can best meet these needs through active listening, which can set clients at ease during the intake process.
While it may initially seem simple, active listening is, in reality, an ongoing process that requires considerable effort. If successfully applied during client intake, active listening should involve these key steps:
Filter out other stimuli so you can properly receive your client’s message. This allows you to dedicate your full attention to your client. Minimizing office distractions such as screens or flashy decorations will help you maintain focus.
Once you’ve received your client’s message, you can ascertain the true meaning in his or her words. Full understanding cannot take place unless you avoid the urge to attach personal meaning to your client’s conversation. Monitor your mental responses to your client’s statements. Watch for knee-jerk biases and determine in advance how they can be mitigated.
After you understand the real meaning of your client’s words, you can evaluate the underlying message to determine how best to respond. This could be as simple as deciding whether a client’s particular statement makes sense given the context of the conversation — or whether something seems out of place.
As with understanding, personal judgment can easily interfere in evaluation. You’ll no doubt examine the situation through a legal lens, but you’ll want to take other perspectives into account to ensure that you demonstrate the empathy your clients require.
The human brain is designed to absorb and process massive amounts of information — but not to remember that data indefinitely. In the context of attorney-client interactions, however, memory is key. Your brain will naturally filter through each conversation to target the most essential information; the remembering step of active listening involves storing these critical pieces of information away so you can call upon them in future interactions.
As the final stage in the listening process, responding should occur only after you have successfully received, understood, remembered and evaluated your client’s message. That’s not to say that you cannot provide feedback while your client speaks; your body language can provide valuable signals that keep this person engaged. Occasional verbal cues such as statements of assent can encourage your client to continue speaking. Once it’s time to provide more extensive feedback, however, be willing to dig in further before you offer any final conclusions.
The intake process sets the stage for all other interactions between attorneys and their clients. By integrating active listening practices into your intake routine, you can dramatically improve client satisfaction both early on and throughout the legal process.
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