Column: The Business of Law
Asking About Client Needs and Solving Problems
by Mary Louise Hopson
Mike Hainsfurtherjoined Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr, P. C. four years after the firm was founded. Created in 1985 by six lawyers, the firm, which has a website with a tagline of “staying ahead of the curve,” has grown to more than 100 lawyers in three offices. A past Chair of the DBA Securities Section, Mr. Hainsfurther represents companies in mergers, acquisitions, reorganizations and restructuring for both public and private companies. He feels strongly that a lawyer has to be there for clients, be ready to help, and to ask the right questions. We have all heard the axiom, “Clients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” and Mr. Hainsfurther believes strongly in that approach.
“Lawyers have gone to school, are talented and are ready to show how smart they are,” he said. “‘Here’s who I am and what I do,’ they are ready to say. That’s the opposite of what they should be doing. The lawyer needs to ask what the client needs and what issues concern them. After learning that information, the lawyer is able to provide a valuable service and make a connection with the client. This is different from selling, which is getting the client to buy something that they don’t need. This caring attitude and putting the focus on the client is particularly important for lawyers with 4-10 years of experience, because they are asked often to help bring business to the firm.”
“Most clients already assume you have the technical knowledge,” Mr. Hainsfurther added. “You need to apply that knowledge to the client’s needs, often right then, to be effective. When a client has a problem, it’s a big problem. We help clients solve their problems. Knowing about the client and the company is a key to being successful.”
Mr. Hainsfurther offered a useful tool from Bryan Flanagan, president of locally based Flanagan Training Group and a veteran marketing and communications expert who works with lawyers and other professionals. Known by the acronym “POGO,” which stands for Person, Organization, Goals and Obstacles, it serves as a guide for how a lawyer can learn information about the client that will help solve a problem and deliver a good solution. We contacted Mr. Flanagan to learn more, and he talked about the challenges lawyers and other professionals have with promoting their skills. The key, he said, echoing Mr. Hainsfurther, is to learn to get away from leading off with information about the law firm and focus instead on leading with the needs of the client. To get there, a lawyer needs to be able to ask questions.
“You capture more clients solving their problems than you do selling or marketing your law firm,” said Mr. Flanagan. “Through POGO questions, you start to find out the potential client’s needs, and also start to get a profile.”
With Mr. Hainsfurther’s practice, being accessible also is crucial. “In my work, I sell companies, a big event in a client’s life,” he explained. I have to be available to clients no matter my personal schedule, which creates an environment where there are personal sacrifices. It can be a 24-hour- a-day job.”
“That’s my approach to practicing law,” he added. “There are lots of different ways to practice, depending on the lawyer. There’s a spectrum. At one end, it’s being available 24 hours a day. At the other end, a lawyer can put a finite box around availability.”
He added that different areas of practice necessitate differing levels of availability at different times. For example, the transactional practice uses holidays and the year end as artificial deadlines to get things finished. Other practices depend on government agencies or the courts being open, and many of those offices close down during holidays. Lawyers practicing in the areas of wills, estate planning and probate may not need to be as readily available and may not have to provide a quick turnaround on every project.
“Each individual lawyer can tailor his or her practice to client needs and personal priorities,” Mr. Hainsfurther added.
If you have seen the recently released Clint Eastwood movie “It’s About the Curve,” you have watched a lawyer struggle with the balance of professional and personal life. We don’t want to give the story away in case you haven’t seen it, but we see in the movie that the lawyer, after much angst, works out her own arrangement about being available to bosses and clients, and how she wants to spend her time as a lawyer. She makes a choice that she sees as the best for herself, and she remains a good lawyer who meets the needs of her clients.
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Marketing veteran Mary Louise Hopson is a longtime member of the Publications Committee and writes this occasional column about the business side of law practice. She can be reached at email@example.com.