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Ask the Risk Pro: “Message Received” and Cruise Control

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Advice from your on-call practice consultant.

When it comes to communication, “message received” is far more important than “message delivered.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter what you say – or how often you say it – if it isn’t heard or understood.

Too often we lawyers get it exactly backwards. We think if we say something – to a client, opposing counsel, judge, whomever – then we’ve done our job.

But was the listener paying attention? Did they fully comprehend the meaning of what was said? Did they have follow-up questions or concerns that we missed because we were too busy talking?

“Lawyers don’t communicate with clients in ways that their clients expect,” writes Clio co-founder and CEO Jack Newton in his book, The Client-Centered Law Firm. “Clear and open communication is absolutely critical.”

Not only that, but poor communication is risky. A large percentage of legal malpractice claims are the result of communication errors.

Here are six tips for making sure important messages are not just delivered, but actually received:

  1. Speak slowly and in plain English. Clients are already nervous enough when they see you. Too much legalese can make them shut down completely.
  2. Say it three times. This advice comes from my first legal employer. He said the first time we tell clients something, they don’t listen. The second time, they don’t understand. The third time, they finally get it.
  3. Put it in writing. That way, you’re covered if problems arise later.
  4. See if the listener understood you. A good technique: ask them to repeat what you just told them.
  5. Use the two-thirds rule. Two-thirds of your time should be spent actively listening, one-third speaking.
  6. Ask “what else?” After the client has finished telling their story, ask if there’s anything else you need to know. They might have left out the most important details.

Now let’s dive into the Risk Pro mailbag:

Dear Risk Pro: What is the biggest cyber-security threat to my firm in 2021? Staying Safe in San Antonio TX
Dear Staying Safe: It’s the people you work with every day. That’s right, your current and past employees pose a greater risk to your law firm data than nefarious outside hackers. “Insider threats account for anywhere from 60 to 75 percent of data breaches,” says one cybersecurity expert. “These insider threats are dangerous because they can come from almost anywhere — a jilted ex-employee bent on personal revenge, a malicious insider looking for personal gain, or even a content staff member who lacks cybersecurity training.” For more, see this post on our Pro Practice Blog. And click here to learn about how cyber liability insurance coverage can protect your practice.

Dear Risk Pro: Who invented the cruise control for automobiles, and why didn’t they invent one for law practices? Motoring in Michigan
Dear Motoring: An engineer named Ralph Teetor created the modern automobile cruise system – the Speedostat – in the 1940s. He came up with the idea after becoming exasperated while riding with a lawyer who kept slowing down and speeding up. Sadly, there’s no such device for law firms. But here, here and here are some wellness tips for whenever you feel a need to slow down or stabilize your speed.

Dear Risk Pro: I was dragged somewhat reluctantly into the world of video conferencing by a prospective client who felt uncomfortable meeting in person. After a surprisingly smooth initial interview via Zoom, the client retained our services. Lesson learned. Meeting Clients Where They Are in Minneapolis MN
Dear Meeting: Great! Your goal is to provide a safe and successful experience for your clients. Do that by giving them options. Some will want to come into your office and meet personally. Others will prefer to do it remotely. Be flexible. And consider this: a Bloomberg Law survey found that 82 percent of law firms say their clients expect them to use technology to lower costs and increase efficiency and convenience.

Risk Rhetoric: “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.” Plato

Risk Pro List of Things You Should Know (or not)
Top 10 Things to Collect

  1. Coins
  2. Music
  3. Video Games
  4. Books
  5. Movies
  6. Rocks
  7. Awards
  8. Stamps
  9. Art
  10. Antiques
    (Source: TopTenz)

Got a question about how to keep your law practice safe, successful and soaring? Ask the Risk Pro – your personal, on-call practice management consultant if you’re insured through Alta Pro Insurance Services. Contact the Risk Pro today.


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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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August 28, 2024 1:00 pm EST
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Colleen Byers Mediation, LLC


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