We love old movies, especially the greats of Film Noir – those black and white mysteries where the men wear suits and hats, the dialogue is crisp and fast and takes wise-cracking banter to a new level.
Your practice needs to strike a balance of professional and personal. Prospects are likely coming to you at a time of great worry, when their lives need careful handling as much as they need strong legal representation. Your approach needs to be the opposite of the hard-bitten detective who sits behind a big desk and questions a potential client who only knows that she has a problem and needs help.
We often encounter situations where we want to get a lot of information in a fairly efficient manner. And the client sitting across from us is carrying stories that they want to share, or gets off on tangents about their brother’s kids. They are often nervous; for some, this is the first time they are in an attorney’s office.
It’s your job, along with that of all of the members of your staff, from the receptionist who takes the first call to the paralegal who works with the clients to move the process along, to convey a caring, warm and concerned atmosphere.
Dare we say it? You set the tone in your office. Your team will pick up on it, and treat your clients the same way that you do. If they hear you talking in a disrespectful manner or making glib jokes about clients or their situations, they will take that as a cue to do the same.
And what happens if someone who is not a team member in the office hears those kinds of comments?
The cinema’s polar opposite to film noir may well be the 1937 movie Heidi, starting Shirley Temple as a sweet young orphan who is sent to live in a cabin in the Swiss Alps with her grandfather, who wants nothing to do with her, until he realizes how wonderful she is.
Let’s be sure that your clients walk out of your office feeling better than when they first walked in. There may be tough situations and big decisions to make. But you want them to leave knowing that they have just met with someone who understands their situation and will be able to help. This may be contrary to today’s version of film noir – the snarky atmosphere of sarcasm and “whatever” – but we think it is a far better way to go.