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When it comes to clients the key is not to hear, but to listen

By Cynthia Fernández Hawa.

When we first meet up with a client or a potential one, we generally tend to ask them what legal service they are looking for. This is a practice that’s commonly done and responds to a logical thought: if they came to us is because they’re in need of a lawyer and or a legal service. However, by only taking this into account without analyzing other factors, we’re missing two important details that I will explain in the following.

Not every situation should have a legal solution

As attorneys, we’re used to listen to our client’s issues and simultaneously think about the legal solution we will advise them as soon as they stop talking, and we see that as a sign of preparation, knowledge and experience.

For us, if we immediately give a quick and technical response to the client he or she will have a better image of us as professionals. We forget that clients come to us looking for a solution to what they see as an issue affecting their lives somehow, and that getaway, for our benefit, usually tends to be legal but is not necessarily.

Sometimes, we gain more by recommending the client a treatment that escapes the legal scenario, that’s easier, faster and more economic for them. In words of Mary Redzic, “by relying on methods used outside the legal profession to solve problems, you can build a more client-centric law practice” [1]. By doing this, we create a relationship of confidence and proximity with the client, who will not only see us from now on as their legal counsel, but also as a person who’s willing to give them a transparent and efficient treatment to a simple problem instead of complicating things just to earn a profit from it. Of course, this by no means implies to leave behind the necessary due diligence or not assuring minimally the rights and interests of our client even if we give them the non-legal solution.

Don’t confuse the ends with the means

Think of the following scenario: a client comes to your office telling you that his intention is to create a limited liability company to organize in advance his father’s inheritance. That way, he keeps telling you, he can create a bulletproof heritage with articles of organization that will protect it from creditors and will assure him stability and control. And, of course, the cherry on top: he knows this because it worked for his business partner who once had a similar situation.

We may feel tempted to nod and give the client the solution he thinks he needs but, as legal counselors, we need to learn to identify the difference between means and ends, and learn to interpret the intention that relies behind the client’s request, and from there on, investigate what legal strategy suits better his needs.

In this particular case, for example, the client’s ends are estate planning, but the means can go from constituting a trust to a simple transfer of property. In terms of the Dominican Republic’s legal system, both options have different repercussions that the client doesn’t know but’s the responsibility of the attorney to assure. To give an example, a trust could be recommended on the following cases: (i) If there’s a lot of heirs with different intentions, it’s an extensive estate with different types of assets that at the same time represents a large amount of value and the beneficiaries are willing to pay the trustee’s fees or (ii) If it’s a family company and the founder wants to assure the rules of administration even after his death. On the contrary, I would recommend a simple transfer of property if: (i) if it’s the father’s intention to give the sole property of a good to one of his sons and the others know this; (ii) if the beneficiary is willing to pay for the price of the sale or will assume the donation’s tax due to the Internal Revenue Service. As we can see, there’s a lot of legal and even financial aspects in both options that the client overlooks.

Finally, when the job’s done, ask for feedback. As an industry that provides services, law firms, whether they are small or big, need to appropriate the practice of asking to clients how would they qualify the service and what would they change if given the occasion. This is important because by seeing our work from the client’s POV we manage to underline or cross out some practices that we wouldn’t do otherwise simply because we wouldn’t have noticed from our technical perspective.

For example, we could be doing all the hard work back office to win the case but if we didn’t reply to a client’s concern or we didn’t email them with a follow-up report, we could be seen as careless or too busy and that can affect the image that the client has about us. And, as Mark Cohen said in his article Missing Headline: Law Firms Tackle Client Disaffection, in today’s market “with lots of competition - among law firms and from other provider sources- client satisfaction is again the priority” [2]. That being said, and we repeat, the key to a lawyer’s proficiency can be found in a simple strategy: pay attention to what your clients say and even more, what they intend to say.



About the Author

Cynthia Fernández Hawa is a Dominican lawyer, graduated from the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM) and currently studying in the Universidad Abierta Para Adultos (UAPA) to be a surveyor. She has successfully completed certified programs in the areas of Real Estate litigation, Civil Liability, Commercial Defense Mechanisms and Intellectual Property.

She has participated in the Debate Championship of the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra, the Dominican Competition of International Law about the Procedure in the International Court of Justice and the United Nations Model of the school Juan XXIII.

Cynthia has worked since 2019 as a Junior Associate in the Real Estate Department of a local firm, managing the negotiation of contracts in general, legal enquiries regarding inheritance law, condominium, corporate issues, trust and others, as well as filling and defending lawsuits about property rights and civil matters. She has also provided since 2019 services of legal translations in the languages Spanish, French and English.

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