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Common Courtesy and Your Bottom Line

May, 11 2015
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Jo Stephens

One of the realities of adulthood is that not all of us reached it when we grew up: Some of us just got older. Our modern culture contributes to the problem by emphasizing entitlement and self-aggrandizement over the common courtesies our kindergarten teachers and parents tried to instill in us at an early age. Thus, many of us go through life expecting to be handed what we want and need by sheer virtue of our continued presence on the earth. These too-old children tell themselves that they deserve the best, and what they deserve should be theirs without the fuss of having to ask nicely.

The main problem for those with this attitude is that they are often dealing with other grown-up infants, who want precisely the same treatment… and are willing to do nothing to deserve it. When two such juvenile adults try to do business, conflict is sure to follow.

What, you may be wondering, does any of this have to do with running a law firm? With earning money? With getting and keeping clients? Two points: 1) If one or more of your clients is of this type, you may need to exercise an abundance of courtesy to keep them; and 2) If you, yourself, are ever prone to this sort of attitude (and few of us ever abandon it entirely), you may find yourself losing clients without knowing why.

Sometimes we have to choose be the adult

Sometimes we have to choose be the adult

As annoying as it is, the courtesy lessons taught in our infancy are more applicable than ever in the legal profession – especially in a firm that depends on income from clients. Unless and until you are able to turn down money from clients who cannot be polite, you will likely find yourself dealing with several of them throughout your career. They will make unreasonable demands, act like spoiled children, and criticize everything you do. Whether you can bring yourself to continue to take their money will depend in large part on whether you are able to show courtesy in return.

When faced with impolite clients, it can help to remember that your job as a lawyer has a direct impact on their life – and that, more often than not, they wouldn’t be in your office if their life were running smoothly. Long after their names have faded and the details of their cases have been forgotten, they will have to live with the results. That kind of stress can turn the most gentle individual into a tantrum-throwing two-year-old: Someone already prone to boorish behavior may become quite impossible.

So go back to basics. Say please and thank you. Exercise reflective listening. Meet aggression with courtesy (for there is nothing aggression dislikes more). Do not threaten, but simply let your clients know what choices they have if they choose to act disrespectfully. Be polite, always, for even children deserve quality representation (even when they don’t deserve it).

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