To Paraphrase the Grateful Dead’s Casey Jones: “Trouble with You is the Trouble with Me…Got Two Good Ears but We Still Don’t Listen!”

Clients seek attorneys not only for their ability to win a lawsuit, negotiate a settlement, or draft a document, but also for their wisdom. But do attorneys really listen to their clients? All too frequently, the attorney formulates a response to the client before the client has even finished what he/she has tried to tell the attorney. Sometimes the attorney even jumps in midstream, interrupting.

Listening differs greatly from hearing. Listening means to be fully engaged and wholly present by making a conscious effort to interpret and analyze. Listening requires constantly being attentive as the client is speaking and nonverbally communicating. The key is to unearth what the client wants, not what the attorney thinks the client wants.

The skill to truly discern what the client’s overriding priority is effectively occurs as early as the initial intake interview when there is critical information for the attorney to learn and understand about the client’s goals and needs. The attorney earns the trust of the client, and the client comes for the attorney’s opinion on what should be done. Don’t hold back on giving advice to help the client take action on his/her problem; however, never forget the overriding principal: “Listen to what the client wants, not what the attorney thinks the client wants!”

When clients are listened to, they are engaged and feel understood. Effective listening is a skill that requires development, getting to a deeper level of understanding, rather than springing up with an immediate answer. This is the key to more effective problem solving. Listening in this manner assists the client to formulate their own solution or plan of action to fulfill their goals.

Asking questions of the client also gives the attorney the opportunity to distinguish what is truly transpiring with the client, not what the attorney thinks is transpiring. This is a crucial factor in delivering sound legal advice. Asking powerful questions may also deepen the awareness of the true problem: not only to help clients by giving them the answers the attorney thinks are appropriate; but also to wait to listen to what the client proposes. The originality of their answers is always a surprise.

Once the client has answered the attorney’s questions, the attorney who has truly been listening to the client will share his or her observations clearly, but without judgment. I have found in my practice that this process helps the client to focus and feel part of our TEAM to collaborate on a solution to the problem at hand.

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