Empathy in the Law

Posted on 4th July 2017


Welcome to the Business Empathy Forum and thank you for your visit. In this post I continue my occasional series on empathy in specific business sectors. I focus here on three useful suggestions from a recent article by Gail Gardner on empathy in a small law practice.

Three Tips for Empathic Client Relationships

These insights represent concrete steps that law firms – and other professional service providers – can take to build empathic relationships with clients. A first tip goes to the heart of problem-solving and communication: “Make sure you’re offering to solve a problem that you truly understand. By doing so, you’ll gain enormous credibility with your customers and actually be able to help them better.”

This may seem an obvious point, but I have seen clever people work very hard to resolve problems they don’t really understand. Beyond that, I have seen teams in world-class organizations struggle because they were not aligned on the problem they were trying to solve. So this tip is a good one, for lawyers and for other professionals: make the effort to understand the problem that needs to be resolved, and be willing to admit if a particular type of problem is not in your ‘sweet spot’. Ask questions, observe, and listen. Clients will appreciate the effort, and your candor.

A second recommendation addresses our attitude toward clients and their issues: “Don’t merely focus on how you can benefit your company. Yes, you need to keep your interests in mind. But remember that by helping your customers, you are also helping yourself.”

This may also seem like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating: it makes sense to put your customers first. After all, they are coming to you for service. There is pressure for growth – and fast growth – in today’s marketplace, but going for sales or quick profits at the expense of customer care is a slippery slope: there may be short-term gains, but the approach is not sustainable: the market is too sophisticated, and word will spread. A successful practice – at just about any successful professional firm – needs to put its clients first to have sustainable success. It is a matter of good business practice and remaining competitive in a tough market.

The final tip from Gail Gardner deals with how we organize and run our businesses: “Adapt the structure of your processes to the needs of your customers in a way that accommodates the importance of empathy in business. Can you adjust the way you accept payments so that you relieve some of your customers’ stress while still making a profit? Any way you can make the buying experience easier for them will also benefit you.” We tend to overlook this one because it is an ‘administrative’ question, but our systems and procedures can send an empathic message… or not.

Three solid tips, then: Understand the problem clearly. Put the customer first. And adapt your processes to the customer when you can.

Good luck, and until next time…