With so many of us self-isolating, it’s likely that both you and your clients are working from home and more distracted than usual. And chances are, if they’re facing legal issues, your clients’ stress levels are extra high. In fact, they might just be at the end of their tether, feeling as though it’s all too much. So if they’re not answering your calls or replying to your emails as promptly as usual, who can blame them?
Clarissa Rayward, Director of Brisbane Family Law Centre, Queensland Law Society Accredited Specialist in Family Law, collaborative lawyer, mediator, and author, says this means it’s time to say goodbye to some of our usual ways – such as inflexible schedules and professional formalities.
Clarissa shares her six top tips on how lawyers can embrace a more heart-felt form of client communication in today’s new world.
1. It’s not “business as usual” – so we shouldn’t say it is
“Business as usual” is a phrase a lot of firms are using, en masse, when communicating to clients. What they’re really trying to say is, “despite the unusual circumstances, we’re still here to help you”.
But it’s a very poor word choice. Why? Because there’s nothing usual about the way we’re all working right now.
Your clients are facing challenges they’ve never faced before. Perhaps they’re home-schooling their children while trying to hold down a job. They could be feeling intense emotions of loneliness as a result of living alone. Or they could be under serious financial stress.
So using the phrase “business as usual” invalidates the struggles your clients may be facing. And it could be taken as insincere – and potentially tone deaf.
Instead, acknowledge what is and what is not the same. E.g. While we aren’t doing face-to-face consultations, consultations are still taking place over video link. Call [phone number] to find out how we can help you.
2. Be open to letting your professional guard down
Lawyers are used to giving 120% and presenting a formal front to the world at all times. It can feel slightly uncomfortable to appear anything less than a consummate professional to your clients.
However, extreme situations call for extreme changes. It’s okay to let go of the usual formalities. And it’s okay to let your clients know some of the challenges you’re facing too.
All Australians are being impacted by the current social and work restrictions. Sharing your story with clients will help them relate to you – and potentially encourage them to open up in return.
3. Be realistic about what you can deliver
Under-promising and over-delivering should be your ethos right now.
While countless studies have proven that working from home can lead to an increase in staff productivity and retention, this isn’t your usual working from home scenario.
What’s happening in the world is completely different thanks to five factors: space, privacy, anxiety, children and choice.
There are many reasons you might not be functioning at full capacity. Whatever your situation, make sure you account for unexpected delays when giving delivery estimates to clients.
This will ensure you don’t put yourself or your clients under unnecessary stress.
4. Be as flexible as an at-home yoga video
When working from your office, you likely had set times to meet with your clients. You likely also had firm processes for what you would discuss over the phone, versus what you might put in an email.
Texting may have also been a no-no. But to get the most of our working relationships with clients, lawyers need to rethink these processes.
Why? Because you might be trying to reach a client who only has an hour to chat per day around his or her sleeping baby. Or a client that doesn’t have the mental capacity to digest the contents of a complicated email right now.
The best way to understand what your clients are going through is to ask what their unique situation is and how you can adapt to their needs.
This might mean giving them the flexibility to text you when they are free to chat, rather than locking in a set meeting time. Or switching from emails to phone calls more regularly.
5. The “less is more” principle has never been more important
Although brevity in writing is always preferred, it’s especially critical right now. Unnecessarily long pieces of communication will only overwhelm and potentially add to your client’s anxiety levels.
I know, this isn’t easy when you have complicated legal information to convey. Start by making sure your writing style is succinct and easy to scan.
And if you’ve edited your email with abandon and it still reads as though it may overwhelm your client? Consider whether a phone call might be a smarter first point of contact.
6. Now is not the time to sell. It’s time to help.
Given the uncertainty of work coming in, it is tempting to think we should be trying to generate new business to keep cashflow pumping.
However, the last thing any legal practitioner should be doing right now is sending out pushy sales messages.
If you’re there for potential clients in supportive ways now, you will be front of mind when things start returning to normal – and clients are in a position to spend again.
While it is impractical (and legally dubious) to offer tailored consultations for free, there are many ways legal professionals can help their networks. This could include webinars, live Q&As and whitepapers. Read our step-by-step guide on how to offer free services during COVID-19.
Solid, productive communication right now means remembering we’re all human. It’s as much about being kind towards our clients as it is about being kind towards ourselves.
It takes a lot of courage to ask for support. But right now, it’s incredibly important to seek help if you need it.
Beyond Blue provides comprehensive information and support on anxiety, depression and suicide.Lifeline is available for anyone experiencing crisis or distress, or who needs emotional assistance and someone to talk to.