When a client engages you to start a business, they may have a clear vision of the result they want to achieve, but they may need your expertise on the mechanics of making it happen. Other times, the client may be focused solely on the mechanics and require guidance on the mission. Regardless of where the client is at, taking a client-centered approach is crucial to the success of the transaction because starting a business is an art, not a science, and the client’s vision is their masterpiece. You want the client to feel empowered, in control, and that their needs have been met. But what happens when the client seems satisfied until the end of the process when they suddenly get cold feet or raise a new issue?
In such cases, thinking quickly and adapting to the situation with the facts at hand is a quality that’s embedded in the legal profession. However, giving the client space to breathe and time to reflect on important decisions is equally important. This approach enables the client to feel more confident when they ultimately make that decision. Even if you’ve laid out all the possibilities with the facts presented by the client, taken a specific course of action, and are right at the finish line, if the client raises concerns that were not previously discussed, the attorney needs to take a step back and refrain from inundating the client with more options or scenarios.
A client-centered approach not only fosters trust, which is essential when working with someone to create something meaningful, but it also lets the client know that they are in charge, and their vision will manifest on their schedule when they’re ready. This is particularly important when the attorney is organizing an entity that the client may operate for their lifetime. The entity is the client’s brainchild, and they should feel secure and confident in what they’re bringing into the world. A client-centered approach requires the attorney to create a working relationship with the client and move with them down the path they choose.
For the attorney, this may be just one transaction, but for the client, it’s a campaign. A client-centered approach puts the client at the center of the thinking, considers the entire client journey, gives the client what they’re looking for, requires clear communication, and does not operate under assumptions.
Attorneys may feel they have the best solution or strategy for the client, but putting the client at the center of the thinking allows them to express their vision fully, and the attorney’s job in a client-centered approach is to align the client’s brain and heart. However, an overambitious client may need to be cautioned when their heart overrides their thought-process. Nonetheless, the client must feel that they are at the center of the thinking and not coerced into making certain decisions.
A client-centered approach must begin with the end in mind. It’s not a matter of executing the transaction and being done with it. The attorney is required to consider the entire client journey and lay out all foreseeable scenarios that may impact the transaction. Additionally, if a client is engaging an attorney, they likely have an idea of what they’re looking for. It may be their vision or mission, but either way, the client will be vocal about what they want from the beginning. It’s the attorney’s job to listen closely and not read between the lines, adding their own values to the client’s mission.
Clear communication requires the attorney to be attentive to the client’s confusion or lack of understanding of a legal concept. This requires emotional intelligence and the ability to read body language. The client may be confused even if they don’t explicitly state it, but it may be evident from their facial expressions. Taking a step back and ensuring the client is on the same page is necessary for a client-centered approach to be effective.
Finally, a client-centered approach cannot operate at its full capacity if the attorney is making assumptions. Assumptions can take many forms and ultimately stem from a gap in understanding that is filled with non-explicit assertions. If the client does not communicate a detail or methodology to the attorney, the attorney must not assume it. Assumptions have rarely produced satisfactory results in human life and are even less likely to create satisfaction in a legal transaction.