Clients are people too. I repeat, clients are people too. This may seem obvious to the astute reader, however, there have been many occasions on which I have had to remind my staff to treat our clients like people, instead of merely treating them like clients. Magnus’ clients are high powered attorneys, insurance adjusters, risk managers, and other executives. Our clients are paying us handsomely to help them with the challenges they face in their high stakes litigation. The lawsuits for which my company is retained range from multi millions to multi billions of dollars. Often, our clients are nervous about working with us, including presenting their case to a room full of mock jurors or other research participants. There are a multitude of things that can, and do, go wrong on any given research day. Tension and stress are usually at maximum levels. I have learned that common courtesy, good manners, and kindness go a long way in easing our clients’ stress and in making them more comfortable doing what they need to do to benefit our mutual client (the plaintiff or defendant in the lawsuit we are testing in our research). Often, asking a client if he/she would like a glass of water, or complimenting him on his tie, or complimenting her on her shoes, or making “small talk” about where he/she went to law school breaks the ice and humanizes my staff and me in ways that cannot be accomplished via other means. Many of Magnus’ employees are dutifully engaged in performing the technical aspects of their jobs to the point they forget to pay attention to our clients, who may have spilled a drink on their table or who may be having difficulty using their computer during their presentation or who may be nervously pacing the floor. David and I frequently remind new hires to introduce themselves, to speak with all of our clients and above all, to be friendly, thereby acknowledging them as people first, and clients second. As Glen Campbell famously sang, “try a little kindness.” A little kindness goes a long way!
On a research day it is a bit of a toss up who the most important people in the room are. The participants, i.e., mock jurors are critical to our projects. Without them we cannot do our work. But, without the clients, we have no work to do. Our support staff usually is comfortable with the mock jurors – directing them to follow our research day protocols and keeping them on track and on schedule. But, the clients, who are typically high powered, highly successful, people who are used to being in control of the room, are sometimes intimidating people. Thus, over the years one of the areas we have to coach our new hires is to understand who the clients are. And it helps to explain to them the pressures under which these attorneys work on a daily basis. The pressures from their clients are tremendous; the stress of providing excellent representation to their clients is hard to comprehend. And, the stress of performing at high levels, at all times, in front of crowds also takes some time for new hires to comprehend. The stresses on everyone on a research day tend to make it easier for staff to focus on their specific tasks. But, the biggest task of all is ensuring that the clients are satisfied, that their needs are met. And, it takes time for employees to get comfortable with that responsibility. To be honest, it took some time for me to see clients as more than clients. But, over time, and because we get repeat work from clients, it becomes easier to know more about the non-lawyer aspects, the non-client aspects, of a client’s life. We are genuinely interested in these extra-curricular aspects. And it has been fascinating to get to know clients on this level. Many times we find common interests – music, travel, or, for me, outdoor activities. I am happy to have had many opportunities to spend time with people who started as clients, to be able to go beyond that sterile label. But, it has to start somewhere. It starts by showing some interest in others, to get past the focus on the work relationship only. It is easier than ever to do some homework, for example, to look at law firm websites to get a quick preview of the client. Some of these bios provide enough information that the “personality” of the client emerges. Some bios are better than others, but at least these provide a starting point for new clients. Doing your homework is always good and we try to take a few minutes to share some of what we know with our staff about a client to ensure that they get beyond the client only facade. It is a good practice and not just because it is good business. We “have” to interact with the lawyers, and end clients, we serve. Getting to know them makes it more fun, in the difficult and stressful cases we, and they, handle, to get the work done and to get the best results possible for our mutual clients.