Trust, and building trust, can be tricky. In a day and age where we get into strangers’ cars without hesitation, it may seem a bit strange that trust isn’t always inherent. According to a recent Gallup Poll, nurses lead when it comes to trustworthiness, and they are generally viewed as the most honest and ethical professionals. Unsurprisingly, lawyers aren’t close to the top of that list. And yet, they are not at the bottom either – ranking just a few spots above lobbyists and car salespeople.
An Above the Law article covering a different survey on trustworthiness conducted by Princeton University claims, “ although lawyers are viewed by the public as part of an ‘envied’ profession, no one really likes them.” Lovely. Perhaps, this is a perception that we can collectively change, but in order to do so, we need to get practical.
Technology has changed how lawyers interact with clients, but it also impacts how clients interact with their lawyers and what they understand about their case.
We’ve previously talked about how creating stronger customer service channels through technology can benefit your bottom line, but consistent, quality communication may also be a mechanism for building trust.
California attorney Paul Graziano in an article in Family Lawyer Magazine on creating a good attorney/client relationship says, “today’s litigants self-educate more than ever – but the attorney still has the ultimate responsibility to make sure the client fully understands the issues in their case and the relevant statutory authority and case law that will impact the determination of these issues.” He further advises, “Consider providing clients with specific references to statutory authority and/or relevant case law concerning their matter so they have an opportunity to read and review some of the authority and information you may be relying upon in assessing their case.”
In other words, client education helps build trust, but we know that communication is key.
In addition to being a good general business practice, communication is specifically addressed in the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, with Rule 1.4 focusing solely on communication. In part, the rule says that a lawyer shall “reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished” but perhaps more significantly, “keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter.”
If the process for providing updates is automated, or if there is a way for clients to feel as though their attorney is complying with the ethical guidelines provided by the American Bar Association, perhaps that can lead to greater trust. A Lawyerist article urging attorneys to “return your client phone calls” surmises that “If an attorney ignores client phone calls, the client may start to wonder what else the attorney has chosen to ignore, like new developments in the case, or even filing deadlines.”
As stewards of the court and representatives of our justice system, we should do what it takes to build and maintain trust, particularly when we have so many tools at our disposal that allow us to do so.
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