When you recognize a problem that a client is facing and you offer help, you create real value for your client. I’ve written previously about how an offhand conversation with my contractor Oldrich resulted in my purchasing property in Wyoming with his help. Making that purchase realized a long-term dream for me, and it created additional work for Oldrich and his team. Talk about a win/win, right?
In that instance, I identified the need, though I didn’t expect Oldrich to meet it. I was just asking a simple question that I hoped might take me to the next step. I was delighted when asking that question gave me not just information but real help. Oldrich created real professional value for me.
And that professional value is easy to translate to law. Whether you spot an issue as a result of a client’s offhand comment or because you happen across a new development that may impact your client, of course you know to bring that up with your client. Raising the issue is designed to bring value to the client, which may in turn bring additional fees to you. Because it’s the desire to serve your client that motivates you, this is a “no ick” opportunity. You can raise the issue without fear of appearing sales-oriented. Image to indicate offering help
(As an aside, legal or business issue spotting and offering to help with that issue is cross-selling at its best. Even though you hope that your firm might be selected to address the issue when you start from the client’s need rather than your firm’s capability, you’re creating value rather than a sales opportunity.)
But what if you spot a personal issue? Is it ever appropriate to raise a personal issue to a client and offer to help?
Here’s what happened in Wyoming to raise this question. Oldrich, who’s still working in Cheyenne, knew that my father was traveling with me and that he might have some challenges with the Wyoming altitude, which is more a mile above the altitude in Atlanta. So Oldrich (who by this time is not just my contractor but my friend as well) reached out to Paul, the electrician who’d worked out the house, who also happens to be the assistant fire chief for a rural fire district. And on our second day in Cheyenne, Paul brought two canisters of oxygen to the house, showed me how to work them, and told me how to recognize signs of hypoxia.
A week after we arrived, I noticed that my father was displaying some of the symptoms Paul had mentioned, and I was able to give him oxygen while I checked his pulse rate. Although I did have to call 911 and my father did end up hospitalized, because Oldrich thought I should have oxygen handy and Paul provided the oxygen and the education, the hospital stay was short and his physical condition was much better than it would have been otherwise. I already knew that both Oldrich and Paul are highly skilled in their crafts, but this experience also showed me that they’re both thoughtful and kind, and I’m deeply grateful for the result.
How does this story apply to a law practice? It’s just the same. If you notice a way to offer personal help—sponsoring a client’s 50th-anniversary celebration at your local club, introducing a client to a needed resource, even offering a recommendation for a new restaurant that you think your client would enjoy—by all means, offer it.
Be cognizant of the bounds of your relationship, but don’t overthink it. You might choose not to offer marital advice unless a client has become a good friend and has raised the issue, but you’ll rarely get it trouble for offering less charged assistance.
We’re suffering from a crisis of trust these days. We see too many politicians exploiting the public trust, too many respected athletes drugging to win their accolades, and too many businesses taking shortcuts to maximize profits despite the risk of harm to others.
Building a personal connection with your clients and offering needed help builds trust. If you aren’t skilled in your craft, personal trust won’t get or keep you hired, but when you do good work and build a relationship of trust, why would a client look elsewhere?
Here’s your action item: consider whether you want client relationships as opposed to client transactions. If you do, consider how you can build trust into your client relationships and whether, how, and when you might bring a personal dimension into those relationships.