As many of you know, I love magic. No, I personally cannot do any magic. My running joke is that my wife, Amy, does the magic in the family. She makes my money disappear! (crickets) But, I do enjoy the art of the mysterious, prestidigitation, and all of the voodoo associated with Houdini and Blackstone and Doug Henning.
But my friends, the art of misdirection and transportation should be kept to the masters of the dark arts. Lately I have seen more and more examples of other professionals engaging in the art of illusion. Lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, financial advisors, they have all practiced sleight of hand on occasion. With the economy the way it is, it is difficult to get a potential client to walk in the door. And once they walk in, who wants to let them walk out without signing your retainer or engaging your services? So these professionals tell them whatever they think the client wants to hear. They make promises, they give guarantees, and then they salivate as the client writes the check. But then what happens when it comes time to perform?
A potential client called me to inquire if I could help her pursue her former attorney. Seems that the attorney promised that he could arrange a loan modification for her mortgage, and in return the client paid him $1,000.00. As the process wore on, the attorney kept the client informed that the loan modification was progressing nicely, nothing to worry about; until the client received a lawsuit for unlawful detainer from someone who purchased the property at the foreclosure sale. Turns out the attorney took the money, made promises, lied along the way, and then couldn’t deliver, and more importantly he wouldn’t break the news to the client.
We as audience members suspend our disbelief, allowing ourselves to be deceived by the prospect of the supernatural. But our clients are not audience members and we are not conjurers to the willingly misled. Our clients don’t want to be duped into believing that everything will be alright; they want someone who will be honest with them and play it straight with them.
An Admission: As a young attorney trying to make a name and bring in business, someone would call and I would promise them the world. I had the best intentions because I was that confident in my skills (immature as they were). But I found that I was doing my clients a disservice. Sure they want the best representation around, but they also want someone they can trust and I believe that a long-term relationship is more likely if I am up-front with them from the outset. It is easier to prepare a client for bad news then it is to try to explain away a poor result that you knew was coming.
So I have changed my tactic. I am honest, sometimes brutally so, with a client’s chances for success. If I think that a judge is going to rule against us, I tell the client. I don’t downplay the risks involved and then act shocked when things don’t go our way. I think that my client appreciates it and is more likely to trust me and return to me for further assistance.
So a challenge for this week (and maybe further into the future). Be honest, brutally so if necessary. Your client will appreciate it if you let them know that there is no way they are getting a refund on their return or their portfolio won’t grow 90% by next Thursday. And if they don’t appreciate it, do you even want them as a client?