Back in our college days, we worked at a mid-sized law firm in our hometown. Since it was a fairly prominent firm, there were several crops of law school go-getters that would pass through the firm's wood-paneled halls each year as summer associates, vying for job offers.
Without the pressure of competing for one of those coveted offers - that would come later - it was interesting to observe the summer associates in their natural habitat and make mental wagers as to who would win a job.
The clerk who dislocated his shoulder during a firm softball game? Job offer.
The clerk who tore her ACL running from second to third base in the same softball game? Job offer. (No doubt the summer associates from the competing firm who tagged ACL-clerk out before offering to help her received offers from their firm as well.)
The extremely bright clerk who worked through all of the firm's social breaks like softball and dinner outings? No job offer.
It was fairly obvious from his first day at the firm that he would not receive an offer. Sure, he was at the top of his class. His work was probably outstanding. Unfortunately, he lacked social skills.
Despite the abundance of lawyer jokes in the world, clients want a connection with their attorneys. Whether BigLaw or SmallLaw, attorneys are assisting their clients through a stressful process; clients want to believe that their attorneys care about the case and are invested in the outcome. Attorneys' social skills affect client retention because clients choose their attorneys in the same way they choose their politicians: beer-worthiness.
A beer-worthy lawyer is one with whom the client can work and strategize, and then grab a beer to wind down from the day. But being a beer-worthy attorney is not just about kicking back a couple of cold ones, it's about building a loyal client base to sustain your practice.
Rest assured, we're not suggesting the social skills trump legal skills. Client retention is not dictated by social skills alone; attorneys also need to provide quality legal representation.
Clients want an attorney who is an expert in his or her practice area, anticipates issues on the horizon, and provides timely, helpful legal advice. The good news? Social skills, like legal skills, can be developed. If you weren't born a legal expert or a social butterfly, it's not too late to learn how to be the kind of lawyer clients want to hire.
And if you are the attorney who tears her ACL in the bar association softball tournament one day and writes a killer brief the next, treat yourself - and your client - to a beer.
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