CONQUERING THAT FIRST MEETING
How often do you get a phone call, email or letter from a potential client asking for a meeting? This prospect is usually a referral or found you on the Internet. and needs legal counsel - someone you have never met. Like a blind date?
When this occurs your thought processes get quite interesting as you wonder:
Which other lawyer are they talking to? What is the subject matter of the meeting? Do we have the experience or track record they may require? Will this be one of those -we will get back to you later- meetings? What can we do to make a good first impression?
Over the years there seem to be 'best' practices for approaching such meetings - and there are no guarantees with any one or a combination of these approaches. They are your best chips if you had to take a calculated gamble.
1. Listen hard. Clients like to unburden. Indeed it is a legal problem. But it is first and foremost a problem before it has a legalistic complexion. It therefore pays to listen to all the angles however they may come across. Interestingly where there are other personalities involved the identity of such persons, their station in life and their reputation make not just interesting jist but help to fashion out strategies. As you may know second guessing the opponent is a key element in corporate warfare.
2. Go with another lawyer
This is usually a sign of seriousness and teamwork. It also helps to have a second pair of ears to harness and filter the information. However you may never know whether the client really prefers a one-to-one because he really wants to have one of those conversations that are had in whispers even in an empty room. It is really a gamble whether attending with another lawyer is a masterstroke or your Achilles heel. The rule of thumb though is that if the client is not alone then you may also need the backup.
3. Take notes Some firms have the culture of issuing notebooks to all their lawyers - and this is a good idea. A few days ago I had a meeting with a lawyer from Ghana who I was introducing to a client here in Nigeria and I could see that the client was balled over by the notebook and the meticulous hand motions of the modern day pencil. As I sat quietly watching this lawyer masterfully stir the conversation with my client and taking copious notes I was thankful that this lawyer was not called to the Nigerian bar - I may have lost the client.
4. Ask the 'right' questions What are the right questions? There are no right answers to this question. It is really touch and go. There are some suggestions generally applied: First is to ask questions that require further elucidation - it shows you are listening and intend to get to the bottom of it all. Second is to ask questions about the business generally - it would be better if these questions are tied into research you did on their business before your meeting or spin offs from the conversation.
5. Find common ground Common ground is something that binds two people who have just met. People you know in common, supporting the same football team, same ethical standards, butterfly collections - we can go on and on. The point is that people just tend to get comfortable with one another once common ground is established. How do I find common ground? Obviously you cannot have a long questionnaire but you can start by asking an open question like - what's your background?
One of the things I enjoy most about lawyering is having these long getting-to-you conversations with potential clients. Its what I call interesting hard work and with each one you learn a new thing.