Learning the proper “bedside manner” is an essential part of finding success as an elder law attorney. This means interacting with your clients in a way that puts them at ease as they navigate some inherently complex, difficult, and often uncomfortable topics. Essentially, you must learn to speak their language. Failure to do so will result in missed opportunities and lost clients.
While the definition of what it means to speak your client’s language will vary from client to client, there are some general guidelines and best practices to keep in mind with all of your client interactions.
Talking to Your Clients
First and foremost, you’ll need to become skilled at presenting complex legal issues in a straightforward manner. As you’re increasingly exposed to the topics and terms inherent to elder law, they’ll become second nature to you. But it’s important to remind yourself that your clients are likely starting the process of estate planning with very little knowledge — or none whatsoever — of the process.
When it comes to planning there will be a lot of new information and terminology for your clients to digest and it’s up to you to make these topics less intimidating. Potential and existing clients (and any family members involved in their estate planning) won’t find you genuine or relatable if you’re constantly talking over their heads with legal jargon.
Assess Individual Client Needs
Whether on the phone or in person, consider the needs of the particular client you’re working with as you speak to them. If they are very senior, for example, you may need to speak more clearly or slowly when talking with them. If you’ve learned that they do best with dealing with one specific topic per appointment, don’t overwhelm them by trying to tackle to much in a single meeting.
If a client seems overly anxious about a specific topic at hand, reassure them that it isn’t uncommon, and don’t pressure them to make an immediate decision. Frequently reiterating to your clients that you understand their particular situation and goals, and that you’re also invested in establishing the plans that will benefit them the most will go a long way in building — and keeping — their trust.
It’s also important to make sure it’s not “all business all the time.” Learning about your clients’ hobbies, grandchildren and other personal details will allow you to connect with them on a more personal level. By showing your clients that you care about more than their money and assets, you’ll grow the relationship and further earn their trust and confidence.
Addressing the technology gap
While the elderly population is becoming more tech-savvy every day, more than half of those over 75 don’t own a computer. Many seniors are still apprehensive when it comes to conducting business or sharing personal and confidential information over the Web. This can be a major source of anxiety for some clients. That means many of your clients will prefer face-to-face meetings vs. a video or Skype call, and paper forms vs. electronic ones. This is another important area where you can speak your client’s language and put them at ease by providing options and allowing them to work within their own comfort level.
If a client is receptive to embracing the technologies you use, it can be a good idea to schedule a casual video via Skype or a similar app to increase their comfort level. You can also have someone on your staff guide them through any part of your website they’ll need to access in order to fill out necessary forms, or even make payments for services rendered. You’ll find that, with a little coaching, some clients will be receptive to using these technologies that can make your job more streamlined. Never force the issue, however.
More often than not, much of this rapport will come naturally. After all, your desire to help the aging population is a big part of the reason you got into elder law in the first place.
By following these guidelines you’ll establish a level of trust with your clients that will enable you to offer them the most benefit from your service and to make it a more pleasant experience for both you and them.
If you’d like to find more resources on interacting with your clients, or on growing your elder law practice, contact ElderCounsel today.