Acknowledging the Elephant in the Room

Set Yourself Apart by Acknowledging the Elephant in the Room

Do you have an ace up your sleeve? Is there one thing that you do — something nobody else does — to set yourself apart from other attorneys, in the eyes of the typical client? Is it some legal niche that you’ve mastered? Lower rates? More comfortable conference room chairs? Newer, shinier veneers? How do you convince the client to hire you instead of the 18,000 other attorneys in your practice area?

We’re all different in some way or another, for better or worse. There’s something about you that will invariably attract some clients and repel others. The trick is to find that differentiating factor and put it to use, in order to (i) bring more clients in the door and (ii) convince the really good clients to sign the retainer agreement. Many lawyers fail to realize that just by paying attention that they can set themselves apart and grow their client base in the process.

I try to set myself apart by being totally and completely honest with prospective clients. What I’ve found is that most clients come to an attorney for a transparent and honest assessment of their legal position in a given matter. Yes, there are those who want someone to sit there and nod as they rant and rave about what a terrible person so-and-so is. But the vast majority of people don’t want a “yes” man (or woman).

Client consult and hire lawyers because they have a problem, they don’t know what to do about it, and they want advice. In our customer-is-always-right society, it’s hard enough to get someone to tell you when you have lettuce in your teeth. When you have a legal problem, it’s very refreshing to sit down with somebody who will actually tell you if your position is untenable, if your claim is a stinker, or most importantly, if you’re doing something wrong. Clients don’t come to your office to nervously flutter around the incredibly important issue that they don’t know what to do with. They want to hear from someone with the backbone to hit the issue head-on.

Here are some other random things that I do to maximize my value with prospective clients:

  1. Pay attention to medium. Email is a great tool, but it’s not always appropriate. Difficult conversations should take place over the phone, and the really important stuff should be handled in person. Have you ever received or given bad news via text message? Yeah, it is never works well.
  2. Don’t gloss over bad news. It doesn’t matter how good of a lawyer you are; at some point in your career, you’re going to have to tell a client something he or she doesn’t want to hear. You only make things worse by glossing over the ugly spots in the representation. Don’t sugarcoat or delay the inevitable; be straightforward and work with the client to remedy the problem.
  3. Don’t force your services. There are going to be times when a client can handle the issue on his or her own. When those times come along, let the client make an informed decision. You’ll never meet a more appreciative client than the one who saved money because he or she didn’t sign the retainer on the lawyer’s advice.
  4. Answer the tough questions. If you haven’t noticed already, the majority of your prospective clients are going to ask for a prediction at some point. This makes us lawyers uncomfortable because predictions can land us in hot water down the road. Set yourself apart by answering the prediction request, even if your prognosis falls short of “rainbows and unicorns.” Go ahead and qualify the heck out of your response; just by making a prediction, you’re doing what a lot of your peers aren’t willing to do. However, be mindful of the rules of ethics and avoid promising or guaranteeing an outcome, for example.
  5. Start the conversation. Don’t sit around and wait for the client to call in and ask for a status update. Shoot off an email or pick up the phone and let your clients know where their case stands. This is a win-win for everybody; the client feels like a priority, you come off looking like a rock star, and the odds of miscommunication decrease dramatically.

Ninety-eight percent of what you offer is also being offered by dozens of other lawyers. Don’t be afraid to tell prospective clients the things that might be awkward, unpleasant, or uncomfortable. The person in your conference room has a five-ton elephant in their house (life), and they don’t know what it eats or how to clean up after it. You do. Considering telling them how.


David Omer

David has been around civil litigation, in some capacity, for his entire life. While he always knew that he wanted to practice law, he didn't discover his passion for business until he got his first


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