The bigger underlying problem is that, while I have some ability to diagnose and fix my car, I’m not an expert so I am at a disadvantage. Since some mechanics/dealers lie or exaggerate problems to increase their business, even if it is unusual it makes all the good mechanics suspect by association.
My car repair experience gives me a glimpse into the discomfort a client feels when seeking a lawyer. Clients want to fix their situation the right way, but not be taken advantage of, and they don't have the expertise to know the difference. If you’re an honest lawyer (or mechanic) it’s frustrating to have clients distrust our diagnosis of a case or try to self-diagnose with mixed information online. However, it's completely understandable because there are bad lawyers out there.
From the client side, one solution is to get a second expert opinion, or a personal referral. I generally try to cultivate relationships with experts so I can trust their advice (a problem when I take my vehicle in for a recall rather than to my regular mechanic). But the solution shouldn't be up to the client. Service providers have to do better.
The dealer could have delivered better, more reliable forms of information. They sent me a link to an explanation of the problem with generic pictures of the type of problem they diagnosed. If their communication had pictures of my actual vehicle I might have been more likely to believe they were accurate. It would have been fairly easy to do with today’s technology. The dealer demonstrated objective knowledge of how to diagnose the problem, but did not demonstrate subjective knowledge of my vehicle having that problem.
Similarly, many lawyers are good at demonstrating objective knowledge of the law, and in ways that clients can verify (providing statute and case references, providing summaries online, linking to useful resources, etc.). However, demonstrating subjective knowledge of a client's situation is more difficult because we can’t just take a picture. We need to actually demonstrate understanding because a client’s legal problem is often a combination of events, circumstances, and emotional reactions.
A good intake form can detail many typical events and circumstances, but only effective active listening can give us knowledge of a client’s full legal issue by allowing us to understand their goals, values, and feelings about their legal issue. If we can demonstrate to a client that we understand who they are and how they want to resolve their issue, and we are knowledgeable about the legal context, then, and only then, can we truly help a client find resolution in a way that they can trust our process and the result.
Active listening and understanding is as critical to good lawyering as it is to any other service business. It may be harder to accomplish as a lawyer though because we can’t just take a picture of our client's problem to show we understand. Even worse, they don't teach active listening or customer service in most law schools. We recommend lawyers take mediation training to strengthen their active listening skills (and it wouldn't hurt mechanics either).
If you're interested in a mediation training, Divorce Mediation Training Associates has two 5-day mediation trainings per year. The next one is in March 2019: learn more here.
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