Curses and Blessings of Over-Thinking
In the course of discussing possible solutions to a problem, I suggested to a managing partner not to over-think it. The response was, “But I must over-think it; I’m a lawyer.”
Over-thinking can be more trouble than it’s worth. It can result in hours billed to a client that varies from absurd to obscene and is exactly the type of behaviour that can make a client furious.
The best way to curb over-thinking is thorough and crystal-clear communication from start to finish. Communication begins with listening carefully to what the client says, and asking probing questions to make certain everyone is clear on the issues and expectations.
Discuss in detail from the outset – and as the matter progresses – how the client will qualify success. Their answer might not be what you expected. Success could be as simple as not exceeding a budget, getting a matter completed before the client’s financial year-end, or well in advance of a Board meeting, Annual General Meeting, or some other occurrence with a non-elastic deadline.
Once you clearly understand how a client will measure success, you should be good to go while continually taking the initiative to check in and compare notes as you move through the process together.
Discussing success as the matter progresses is crucial. This is because issues and agendas can change in a finger snap, and you’ll need to be aware of these factors to avoid unpleasant surprises and keep everyone’s expectations balanced, including your own.
It’s pretty much a given that lawyers tend to exercise their “worry muscles.” The caveat is that if you must engage in over-thinking, do it on your own time and dime. In doing so, it’s very okay to let the client know that they’re on your mind while you’re off the clock.
Over-thinking in this fashion adds tremendous value since the client will appreciate that you’re going the extra mile to safeguard their interests. This is the kind of meaningful added value that impresses clients and that they appreciate. Best of all, “over-thinking for free” literally costs both you and your client nothing, and doing so provides you with the huge return of continuing to earn and keep your client’s trust.
Heather Suttie is a legal marketing and business development consultant. She works with a range of law firms and legal service providers — Global to Solo, BigLaw to NewLaw. Reach her at +1.416.964.9607 or www.heathersuttie.ca.