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Business Development

Be strategic, not reactive: How to handle tough questions with authority

· 5 minute read

· 5 minute read

Nearly every new lawyer has had that moment when a client asks you a question outside your area of expertise, and you simply have no good answer for them. Maybe they want to know about legislation you’re not familiar with, or perhaps they are inquiring about obscure case law you have not dealt with.  

Whatever the case may be, that moment may lead to a confusing and professionally deflating response. It can also yield incomplete or inaccurate information that falls short of the level of service you want to deliver. The good news is that there are steps you can take to ensure you never have to experience that situation.  

To manage times when you might not have an accurate answer off the top of your head, there are several strategies centered around broadly applicable, tried-and-true pillars of client interaction. Preparation, communication, strategy, and honesty are the cornerstones of overcoming these tricky situations and controlling any out-of-scope client inquiry.   

In almost every instance, a client seeking legal services has little knowledge of what type of work goes into preparing and winning a case. They are relying on you to know what they don’t know and to reassure them that your expertise fills in their own knowledge gaps. Presenting yourself as confident and competent is an absolute must when it comes to serving your clients and gaining their trust. To do so, you must be prepared, consider the full scope of your work, and proceed with authority. 

As explained in our blog post on efficiency, “Confidence is the key to efficiency, and clients today expect their legal counsel to give them the best guidance as quickly as possible to mitigate costs and errors. With a simple overview of the tasks contained in a legal matter, you can be sure of what has already been accomplished and what hasn’t. This will also help you answer the ‘why’ query behind every task you do.” 

How can lawyers handle tough questions? 

Create a new mindset

Like so many other instances, the solution to a problem lies in interpreting the problem accurately and approaching its solution with confidence. Every interaction is a chance for growth; every moment of uncertainty is an opportunity to learn. Every perceived shortcoming is really just an investment in your future legal success. All the interactions you have had so far are building blocks to where you are now. Once you reframe your past missteps, you can begin to shape better experiences in the future.  

Find your identity, get control, and stay curious

The best way to ensure confidence that you are doing the best you can for your client is to, in fact, do your best for your client. There is no greater source of personal authority over a legal matter than earnest preparation, which makes the process as important as the outcome 

Consider this advice from the American Bar Association: “Confidence is the consequence of the decision that you do know what you are doing, even if you don’t always get the results your client wants. Sadly, the legal profession cannot guarantee results. The only requirement is that you must be curious. Instead of wallowing in limiting beliefs and negative self-talk, be curious about what is happening in your life. Confidence comes with curiosity.” 

Use the best legal know-how tools to communicate and work with confidence

Becoming an expert in a particular area of law gets much easier when you have the right tools. One such tool is Practical Law, a comprehensive resource suite that is backed by the expertise of more than 300 attorneys working to create and maintain timely, reliable, and accurate resources across all major practice areas. There, you can find everything you need to efficiently navigate new and complex legal terrain while applying your existing knowledge and experience.  

Attorney-client interaction reimagined 

Think about our opening scenario again, but this time envision yourself responding to your client’s questions backed by the right tools, a confident mindset, and authentic care and curiosity regarding their case. This interaction is now rooted in a sound strategy rather than the uncertainty of fragmented knowledge. There is no substitute for preparation, and now you are prepared. 

This may seem like a simple consideration, but gaining the trust of your clients is the absolute best way to grow a successful business. As a lawyer, it is your job to be the rock that your clients lean on in times of need. The confidence you’ll bring to the table will help you build that much-needed trust, and the results will be immediately recognizable.

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