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Ed Poll
  Week of February 5, 2008

The Four Levels of Communication

Too often the lawyer-client relationship is a one-way street—the lawyer tells the client what to do (we call it "counseling") and submits the bill. The real focus of the dynamic must be for the lawyer to understand the intent, the desires, and the wants of the client. Only then can you shape your professional advice. If the their wishes and your advice are in harmony, and you make certain that the client knows what to expect, there is little likelihood of a relationship problem.
Communication skills are vital ingredients to a successful lawyer-client relationship. It's essential that the client knows what the lawyer is doing, and that the client approves of the tactics used to achieve the his or her strategy/goal. Effective lawyers find out not only what clients need, but also what they want. The obligation to promote quality communication between attorney and client and to assure that the client has a good understanding of what to expect lies squarely with the attorney, as part of his or her professional responsibility.
There are four levels which the communication between lawyer and client can be measured.

  • Level One: Satisfaction. This is the minimum threshold of a legal services relationship, and is synonymous with communication. Law firms that don't communicate with their clients—to learn what they want, how they want to receive it, and what their future needs will be—will have dissatisfied clients who soon will be quick to find another attorney.

  • Level Two: Exceeding expectations. This goes beyond mere satisfaction, but can be hard to define. Often client expectations are set too low because their lawyer did not explain at the start of the engagement what was reasonable to expect. This represents a communications failure by the lawyer that amounts almost to deceit, and one that cannot be sustained.

  • Level Three: Earning loyalty. The measure of this level is time, where the firm maintains client relationships for years, or even decades. Communication is the foundation here as well—sometimes clients contact the law firm first when new needs arise, other times their lawyer offers a new service or idea that the client hadn't expected.

  • Level Four: Collaboration. This is the culmination of all three levels. Lawyer and client work together to assess needs and develop a proactive, interactive law approach, making recommendations to each other about actions and decisions that are mutually beneficial. Such a relationship is ultimately both satisfying and enduring—and successful.
Ed Poll

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Ed Poll
Ed Poll

Personal Commentary
Last week, my bike was stolen from my garage, the net result of which is that I am now on a search for a new bike. The experience highlights several universal truths:
• We get used to what is familiar, and don't like to make changes.
• We make changes only when pushed by others or when a situation becomes intolerable.
• Often, the new result is better than the old, familiar way of doing things.
I have taken several bikes on test rides, much like a car. I've found that my tentative conclusions are based on changing variables, such as the kind of wheels, or spokes, or seat, etc. that are on the various bikes. This uncertainty has made me even angrier at the unknown person who stole my bike. Though, as things go, my insurance company will make it easier for me to upgrade the quality of my bike, and in the long run I will enjoy my new bike. In the short run, though, my training and immediate plans have been disrupted. As my wife says, "...there is no free lunch." Without this pain, I would not receive the joy of a new bike.
How does one make a decision without having identical situations in place? And how infrequent is it that we confront identical situations? Not often. This brings to mind a call this very day from someone interested in my coaching program. He wants to know what to expect from the program. I said I can't tell him because each of my coaching efforts is specifically tailored to the individual I'm coaching. How then, he asked, can he estimate the value of the coaching to the investment in the coaching? Good question. The best answer I could come up with was:
• My coaching is guaranteed—if after the first two sessions, you don't feel satisfied, you get a full refund;
• you can ask others in my program about their experience;
• ask yourself why almost all sports figures seek coaching, knowing only that they will improve but not knowing how or how much they will improve.
Here, the real question is not how will I improve; the real question is how can I not improve with an experienced coach as my ally and guide through the maze in front of me?
Best wishes,
Ed Poll

Ed Poll
Ed Poll

What Readers Are Saying...
"I look at Ed as my business partner now—my once-a-week essential business meeting to take the pulse of my practice. During our one-hour phone conversations, we hash out the larger and smaller business challenges of my law firm. I always come away from those conversations enlarged, challenged, and sometimes even quite shaken, but with the tools necessary to move forward down the path he and I are constantly redefining for me and my firm."
-AL, Northern California

Ed Poll
Ed Poll

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