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Ask the Risk Pro: Scaling File Mountain and Guessing Mom’s Maiden Name

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Plus: these two simple words can add rocket fuel to your practice.

Two little words – just six letters total – will not only make you a better lawyer, but they’ll draw new clients to you like a magnet.

The magical incantation: “Tell me.”

This simple phrase addresses our basic human need to be seen, heard and acknowledged. When used alone, it invites clients to share whatever is on their mind. And when followed by a directed inquiry – “tell me why you called,” “tell me what your problem is,” “tell me how I can help” – it lets them define their needs on their own terms, rather than your doing it for them.

“‘Tell me’ is the most open question you can ask on any topic,” says Alexandra Carter, a negotiation trainer and Director of the Mediation Clinic at Columbia Law School. “No question unlocks trust, creativity, understanding, and mind-blowing solutions like ‘Tell me.’”

The phrase packs power because it shifts the point of view from you to the client.

Yet too often we lawyers get it exactly backwards. We want to do all the telling. We want to demonstrate our expertise by letting the client know we’ve heard their story before, we’ve handled lots of cases just like this, and we know exactly what to do.

But every case is different, and every client is unique. Get in the habit of meeting your clients where they are. Let them tell you what they need – in their own words – before you swing into action. Then sit back and watch how your practice blossoms.

For more on this subject, check out Carter’s best-seller “Ask for More: 10 Questions to Negotiate Anything.”

Let’s Dive into the Risk Pro’s Mailbag

Dear Risk Pro: Our firm doesn’t have a formal file retention and destruction policy. Should we have one? Mountains of Files in Michigan
Dear Mountains: Yes. Having a file retention plan is a crucial component of risk management. And in your state, it’s an ethical requirement (see Michigan Ethics Opinion R-5). When it comes to creating such a plan, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The right plan for your office will depend on the nature of your practice, the size of your firm, whether your files are paper or digital, and other variables. A good starting point is Alta Pro’s online Pro Practice Playbook, which has an entire chapter on File Retention and Destruction. There you’ll find tips, checklists and links to sample policies. Need more help? Contact us.

Dear Risk Pro: Can you recommend any good books on paranoia? Nervous in Naperville IL
Dear Nervous: Don’t look now, but there’s one right behind you.

Dear Risk Pro: I attended Alta Pro’s webinar on cybersecurity. The speaker said we should consider using a password manager. Any suggestions on choosing one? Mom’s Maiden Name in Minneapolis MN
Dear Mom’s: A password manager will definitely make your digital life simpler and more secure. No longer will you have to remember a plethora of unique passwords for your online accounts. The password manager does it for you. There are plenty of products on the market – some are free, and even the priciest won’t break the bank. Keeper, 1Password, Dashlane and LastPass get high marks from cybersecurity experts. For more info, check out this Top Rated Password Managers post on our Pro Practice Blog.

Dear Risk Pro: When I’m in a Zoom meeting, should I look directly into my laptop camera or at the other people onscreen? Confused in Columbus OH
Dear Confused: Make eye contact with the camera. And to avoid the dreaded “shady face,” place a soft-white light source in front of you and eliminate side and back-lighting. Here are some more pointers for Looking Fabulous on Zoom.

Dear Risk Pro: Why do fools fall in love? Wondering in Waukesha WI
Dear Wondering: So divorce lawyers will have something to do.

Got a question about how to keep your law practice safe, successful and soaring? Ask the Risk Pro – the personal, on-call practice management consultant for all lawyers insured through Alta Pro Insurance Services.


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In an age of consolidation where increasingly impersonal transactions have made customer service an oxymoron, we bring together independent agents, insurance companies, and other industry specific service providers to develop and deliver insurance products and risk management solutions that benefit our insurance customers.

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