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5 Qualities That Smart Clients Look for in a Lawyer

Most often people only start looking for lawyers when disaster has already struck, stress levels are highest, and they are in neither the emotional state nor the right frame of mind to choose a lawyer that will be the best fit for them and their legal needs. When people are panicked they make rash choices, or foolishly follow the advice of well-meaning family or friends who have no business giving this kind of advice.

But the client pool is also made up of people who are sophisticated, smart, and who plan ahead. It is said in business that a relationship with an attorney is like a marriage: it takes time to develop. If you are hoping for these kinds of clients, here are a list of qualities you might want to cultivate because these are the first five qualities savvy clients looks for in a lawyer.

1. Experience
Finding an attorney with the requisite experience is absolutely critical. At first you will have very little experience and will only be able to ethically accept easier cases. But always strive to gain more experience in more complex or better yet, niche areas. But even if you lack experience, you can always get help from another more experienced attorney (with client permission, of course).

2. Availability
Lawyers' refusal or inability (take your pick) to return calls has earned them a terrible reputation. If you fail to return calls, you'll quickly lose your client's trust. As far as he is concerned, he's paying you money to talk to him and to coach him through his issue. Sooner or later, clients will get the impression that you are procrastinating on their cases in order to work on more lucrative cases. Lawyering is a service. So serve.

3. Rapport
To gain rapport with a client, it is up to you to make a relationship blossom and go smoothly. Most rapport starts with finding an area of common interest. Ideally, you shouldn't have to work too hard on this. If you do, it's a sign: don't try and force a relationship, it may be a red flag of other more substantive and costly problems that come with this particular client.

4. Reasonable Fees
Smart and savvy clients will shop around to get a comparable idea of prices. If you have a particularly good track record, that may justify charging higher rates. But if you're new, you have no record. Therefore, your fees should be proportionate to your experience and the work that you do. Not only is that the ethical thing to do, but clients will be more likely to return if they feel that they are getting what they paid for.

5. Understanding
The business of being a lawyer is all about helping people through their legal issues. You must develop an ability to understand what your clients are trying to tell you -- even when they don't make sense, and when their words are muddled by tears. Lawyers are, in a sense, half therapists, half mumbo-jumbo translators. Even sophisticated clients don't know the legal jargon, and they've paid you money so they can let loose. Clients are looking for a lawyer who can 'get' what it is they need.

The qualities listed above are just a few minimum requirements for any successful lawyer. Most relationships that end badly with clients are often the fault of the lawyer because he or she failed to deliver in one of the above qualities. It may be that you became a lawyer to make money, but the road to riches in this road is paved with a single concept -- service.

Editor's Note, April 4, 2016: This post has been updated to correct a numbering error and to remove an inaccurate reference to the work of DUI attorneys.

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