This is in continuation of the interviews I’m conducting with project managers from a wide variety of industries and fields. See my 1st guest speaker post for a more detailed description.
In this post, I interviewed Julie McGrath Throop, a lawyer with Terry Friedman – Julie Throop Law Offices. She and Terry are personal injury lawyers and I saw this as a great opportunity to take a look into how project management and leadership qualities tie into a field that (let’s be honest) not all of us have the best opinion of. Well, as I found out, they deliver on the very same principles that have to do with effective leadership and in her case, those principles are just as important if not more so.
Intro and an Expbert’s Input: Before I get into the interview, I want to touch on an article by Bruce Mayhew titled Create Client Trust in it he lists five way in which you can create that client trust.
- Know What You’re Talking About – They want to be able to rely on your expertise. If the information you relay turns out to be wrong, you create doubt in the client.
- Give the Best Solution – If your analysis indicates your product or service isn’t the best solution for them, tell them quickly and professionally.
- Know Your Client’s Expectations – Clients expect you to fulfill their priorities. You have to ask every client. Only by knowing what your client expects can you exceed their expectations.
- Do What You Say You’re Going to Do – The idea that building trust takes a long time is a myth. People begin making decisions very quickly about who they trust.
- Be Open – If you prepare your client and come to the table with viable solutions you will be seen as a partner not a supplier and your creditability will be boosted.
Keep those in mind as the interview moves along.
Elton: “Some of the things you were telling me about initially with your clients is establishing a foundation of trust. Can you tell me a little bit more about that and why it’s important?”
Julie: “Terry and I are a personal injury law firm which is unlike business litigation where you represent corporations and the have long term attorney-client relationships. Our clients are represented hopefully only once. So, when they first come in the door that initial connection is very important. We spend at least an hour with that potential client trying to gather information, and answer their questions as fully and as honestly as possible. It’s important that they know all the risks and benefits of going forward with their personal injury claim and or lawsuit. A lot of times their lives are turned upside down, they are out of work, or dealing with catastrophic injuries. And it could be a year sometimes longer before they see compensation so they really have to be able to trust us completely.”
Elton: “Wow! That sounds like a tremendous amount of trust that you’re trying to garner right from the very beginning and then maintaining that trust it throughout the working relationship. Do you take any time to get to know your clients on a personal level?”
Julie: “Yes! Especially during that first meeting. We need to determine if that client is the right fit for the firm and is the firm the right fit for the client. If their expectations are something that we just know are unreasonable, or we can’t help them achieve their goals, we really try to tell them that from our experience what will likely happen. So, it’s at that initial meeting that we know whether or not it should go forward from there. And if it does, we really want to get to know them personally, what their life is like at home? Are they mentally healthy enough to get through this because it is a very trying situation? Do they have a family? How many kids? Who else is reliant upon them while they get through this tough time?”
“Throughout the whole process you really do spend a lot of time together so you can along with getting to know them personally, they get to know me personally. This client/attorney trust is really necessary when you get to trial where you have to peal this onion in front of a jury and show them that this is a complex and whole human being that is worthy of their attention, worthy of compensation.”
Intermission and an Expert’s Input: Before we move on, in 5 Benefits of Getting to Know Your Team, Erica Spelman talks about how investing that small amount of time in building team relationships has several benefits that pay off in the long run.
- You start to see an opportunity in every encounter – With time as precious as it is, looking for opportunities in a hectic schedule helps add a new perspective.
- The work becomes more efficient. – A manager may already know an employee’s strengths, but learning what their passions are can add new meaning and drive.
- There’s a new level of awareness. – When you get to know each other on a personal level, mutual respect grows. Knowing someone’s triggers as well as their strengths can also improve communication. Listening skills will increase as well as picking up on even subtle cues.
- You become a more effective coach. – When you get to know your employees, you learn best how your employees receive feedback, which makes you a more effective coach because feedback is all about the receipt
- It dismantles the ‘boss’ wall. – Breaching that natural division of the manager/employee relationship helps build trust between you and your team member.
Now, let’s get back to the interview while understanding some of the things Julie and Terry are accomplishing with her team in the second half of the interview.
Elton: “And your support staff? How does trust play a part when it comes to them?”
Julie: “Our clients have to trust not only Terry and I as their attorneys, but also our staff who are non-attorneys but are very skilled and we really rely on them so the trust we have in our staff is huge. We ensure that our clients are always well informed which adds to that client trust. You see, we get a large amount of clients through word of mouth and you hope that your client never needs you more than once, but if they do, they do come back to us and they also refer their family members. It’s a very vulnerable situation to be in. The attorney-client relationship has to be a very strong and committed relationship because it is a fiduciary relationship there’s a lot of responsibility on our end. So, it’s important that we have those lines of communication open that our staff really facilitates. Terry or I can’t always just pick up the phone and call every one of our clients every day so we really rely on our staff to help with that communication.”
Elton: “Can you tell me a little bit about your staff interaction or team play maybe?”
Julie: “Our law firm is a small but very powerful and like I said, we really rely on our staff. We have to be a well-oiled machine. So when we’re interviewing potential employees, we make sure to let them know how important it is to be able to communicate. There are going to be no power struggles, no “pissing matches”, we just don’t have any time for it. We want them to be honest and up front and communicate when there is a problem. So, before it gets to me or our office manager, at least we know they have tried to deal with it amongst themselves before it ever even becomes a bigger more festering problem. We have an amazing staff right now and we know that we cannot do it without them.”
So, again trust establishes itself as the principle foundation for any project (or client), in any industry. Just as we saw in the interview with Dan Oster. Also, that sense of team and how you treat those team members is just as important, if not more than the actual client (or project) is. Because, as Julie hinted at in a very direct way, without those team members, there can be no service to offer the client. Or in my case, no project at all without a team you can rely upon.
I want to thank Julie for her time and insight into a very human relationship between the client and attorney. A relationship that I think more people should think about when viewing personal injury law.
Image Credit: Photo by Author