Every client who comes into your office wants four
things from you:
- They want to tell their story.
- They want you to listen to them tell their story
and pay attention to what they say.
- They want you to reassure them that they did the
right thing by a calling you rather than ignore the
- They want closure. They want to get on with their
Their legal problem is an interference with their life.
Knowing how to listen to a client is easily more important
than knowing how to talk to a client. Many volumes and
treatises have been written on how to manage client
relations. In this short chapter I am only covering
a few simple points for the new lawyer to learn and
apply in their practice.
In a recent American Bar Association study, it was
learned that 95 percent of satisfied clients (they would
use you again and recommend others to you) reported
their lawyer listened to them and paid attention to
what they said. Among dissatisfied clients, only 42
percent of them said the lawyer listened to them and
paid attention to what they said. To use these numbers
Set the stage for listening to the client. Just before
starting the interview pick up your phone and say to
your secretary or receptionist, “Hold my calls,
I’m in a conference with Ms. Smith.” Turn
to Ms. Smith and explain, “Ms. Smith, I’m
all yours and I won’t take any calls, with three
- If any member of my family calls, I’ll take
that call. They rarely call, but nothing is more important
to me than my family.
- If a judge calls, I’ll take the call. Judges
are on the bench and can’t make or take calls
during court. They have to call when they can and
I must take the call. (This may also impress the client
that you are an important lawyer with legal matters
- A true client urgency. If there is an urgency I
must take the call. But you as a client have the same
privilege. Simply tell the receptionist that you are
a client and this is urgent and he will put the call
through to me even though I am in a conference with
another client. “
Allow no telephone calls or walk ins. Hang a hotel
“Do Not Disturb” on the door knob. Look
at the client while they talk. Take notes (they’ll
know you’re listening because you are taking notes).
About every three minutes, repeat or paraphrase what
At the end of the interview ask “Is there anything
you want to tell more or anything you want to ask me?
I don’t want you to leave upset that I didn’t
give you a chance to ask me what you wanted to as me
or tell me what you wanted to tell me.” Wait about
thirty seconds or a minute for the client to respond.
The client will feel you listened to their story and
paid attention to them.
Foonberg’s Rules of Listening are actually named
after my father, who taught me two rules of listening:
- You can either talk or you can listen to what people
are saying so you can learn, but you can’t do
both at the same time.
- The Lord gave us ears and a mouth. It is intended
that we are supposed to listen 2/3rds of the time
and talk only 1/3rd of the time, or else we would
have two mouths and one ear.
The result of Foonberg’s Rule is that any time
you are talking more than 1/3rd of the time, you are
talking too much and not listening enough.
Reprinted with permission of the author, Jay Foonberg.
Copyright 2004, Jay G Foonberg