Win Clients With This Simple Question

This post is by Ian Hu, claims prevention and practicePRO Counsel at LAWPRO.

I vividly remember losing one of my first potential clients. He was shopping for lawyers and had whittled his list down to three or four. I had dealt with legal issues exactly like his before and resolved them successfully. I felt I knew the law as well as anyone. I would help him and impress him with my knowledge and experience. I put on my best suit and tie. As I walked down to meet him I figured I had the advantage.

During the meeting I gushed with confidence. We exchanged pleasantries and dived into his legal issues. As we talked I answered all his questions. I educated him on the law. I even weaved in some nuances to show him just how sharp my knowledge was. When I took out the retainer/fee agreement two hours had passed. Time flies when you’re having fun. I was sure he’d retain me. But he hesitated when I handed him the pen to sign up. I wasn’t worried. Hadn’t I just given him valuable legal advice, and for free to boot?

It was a rude awakening when he called me a few days later to say he had chosen another lawyer. What had I done wrong?

I failed to give my potential client what he wanted. Did he want to know all the nuances about the law? Probably not. Did he want the absolute best legal representation? Yes, but more importantly, did he find a lawyer he could relate with? Did I meet any of his real concerns? I had no idea.

Clients have unique concerns. The lawyer’s job is to listen to those concerns and meet them head-on. Not every client is as interested as you are in the workings of the law. More often than not, I have found clients want an interpreter of the law, not a teacher of the law. Avoid legalese. Make it easy to navigate the legal terrain. Communicate using words and phrases the client understands. It’s far too easy to fall into the trap of talking the way you want to talk, not the way the client needs you to talk. The number one source of claims is the failure to communicate. And failure to understand and address the client’s greatest concern can cause the client to lose confidence in you.

The one phrase I learned that made all the difference is to ask my clients: “what’s your greatest concern?” More often than not the client would stop giving me an emotional narrative. You could see the gears grinding away as he or she was forced into a moment of clarity. “This is what I am most worried about…” And I would often begin my reply with these words: “I understand. I can help you with that.”

Over years of practice and hundreds of client meetings, I made my share of mistakes and tried to learn from them. I discovered the benefits of putting away my ego and focusing on the client. I’ve discussed the importance of being likeable before on this blog, respecting your clients, being sociable, and having good client intake forms and practices. But if there’s one thing that transformed my ability to win over clients, it’s the wisdom that understanding the client’s needs is paramount. So next time you meet your client, give this a whirl: “what’s your greatest concern”?


  1. Dan

    Please pass on my compliments to Ian with this comment. I think the better question is some version of “What do you want (me to do for you)”; or, even, What do you hope to get out of this litigation. I think that version will tell you what the client’s “greatest concern” is, even if you don’t ask the question that way. “What’s your greatest concern” may not tell you what the client wants, until after you’ve signed up the client, done some work, and realized what the client actually wants you to do is get Trump elected, even if the client told you that his or her concern was economic issues. What’s your greatest concern” doesn’t force the client to tell you the truth about what the client wants.

    Of course, there are some of us who didn’t want to know that, in some circumstances. But let’s assume that one doesn’t have one of those circumstances.

    Best regards,