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Legal Practice Management

Practice Innovations: Doing what’s best for your client via the power of just asking a couple more questions

William Josten  Senior Manager, Enterprise Content - Legal, Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

William Josten  Senior Manager, Enterprise Content - Legal, Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

For many lawyers, the power of asking clients a few extra questions can establish a deeper level of concern and point to potentially better solutions to their concerns

We all want to do what’s best for those we serve. Very rarely does anyone in any type of service business, especially professional services, set about to provide anything less than top-level service. Our reputations, and indeed our livelihoods, depend on the quality of the service we provide and the reputation we craft based upon it.

However, doing what’s best for our clients, customers, or stakeholders can have many varying shades. Any of us who once sat for the bar exam knows that there is a difference between the right answer and the most right answer. It’s possible to do the right thing, and yet have missed an option that could have been even more right for the client.

I recently experienced this firsthand with a physician, and the experience struck me so much that I felt compelled to write about it.

Finding the more right answer

To perhaps overshare a personal story, I was slated to have surgery this past January — a joint replacement in my neck. It’s not the most significant operation, yet any surgery is significant in its own way. I would have been dealing with several months of rehabilitation and restrictions on my day-to-day life. Most definitely worth it in the right circumstances, but not something a person would undergo casually.

To make a long story short, a couple years of efforts to mitigate the problem had led me to a surgeon. Between my evaluation and the date of surgery, my pain had naturally resolved, and I’d even been able to stop taking my prescribed pain medication. It didn’t really occur to me, however, to ask whether I really still needed the surgery. Of course I did. That’s what the surgeon and I had discussed. That was the plan.

The day of surgery arrived, and I found myself in the pre-operative preparation area. I was less than an hour from proverbially going under the knife when my surgeon stopped in to check on me. “Hi Bill, how are you feeling today?” I fully expected the next statement to be “So here’s what’s happening today,” before he excused himself from the room to prepare for surgery. No one would have blamed him had he done that. It would have been the right thing for him to have done in that situation.

But that’s not what happened. “I’m feeling good,” I said in response to his question. Then he did the unexpected — he asked just a couple more questions. “How is your pain?”

“I’m not really having any pain,” I replied.

“So, the medication is helping?” he asked.

“I haven’t needed to take the medication,” I answered. And suddenly he realized, well before even I did, that there was a more right solution to my problem.

With me ready to go to surgery, my surgeon talked me out of getting the operation. A few more questions led him to the conclusion that there was a better way for him to care for me. And he was absolutely right.

The value of asking

As I’ve reflected on this over the past several weeks, I’ve been tremendously impacted by the power just those few extra questions that he asked had on the situation. He showed a deeper level of concern, got to know me better, and in doing that, was able to do his job better.

I wonder how often we take the time to ask just a couple more questions? Whether we’re in a law firm serving individual consumers or large businesses, or if we’re in-house lawyers serving clients within our company, do we appreciate the power that asking even just a few more questions can have in how we serve our clients?

As lawyers, it can be all too easy for us to assume that our experience provides us with a certain level of insight into our clients’ problems. Indeed, our experience necessarily informs how we serve our clients. But our experience with the legal issues they face does not necessarily provide us insight into how those issues affect them. We only gain that insight by listening to our clients, and the power that asking just a few more questions of our clients can have is easily underappreciated.

Taking just a few extra minutes with your clients to ask one or two seemingly innocuous questions can make all the difference between doing what’s right for your clients and doing what’s most right for them.

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