Rules We Live By

Rules We Live By

At the Law Offices of Matthew S. Johnston, our priority lies in making sure clients are informed and empowered to make their own decisions. We value our operations to be open and transparent, and for this reason would like to share our guiding principles with you. As small business supporters, we use these ideas to light the path we work on:

Listen to Understand

Nothing is more important to client service than allowing the client to speak their mind first. Let them express their emotions, concerns, and the problem itself. Questions should only be used to keep the client focused on the story. Over time, lawyers have to reign in the impulse as we begin to spot issues and formulate responses (responses are for later!). We can take notes on the story, but we should not be trying to solve whatever problem may be presented at that time.

Always ask what the client wants.

One of the most difficult problems lawyers have is that the advice we give is not actionable. It is not something that the client can take and implement. We should always be asking what the client wants. Sometimes, clients can’t express what they want, and that’s ok. But, at the very beginning we should be asking the client what they want — what do they want to see happen? What goals do they have? What would things look like in a perfect world?

We provide options.

Whenever we are asked for advice, we provide options. We do not want clients to think we are telling them what to do. Every communication to a client needs to have at least two options, even if one of those options is to do nothing. Psychologically, clients want control and ownership of the problem and the decision, which they have every right to.

Never tell a client what they should do, even if they ask.

Even if a client asks us to give them options and their next question is what should I do, we should avoid that decision at all costs. We should remind the client that it is their business and their decision to make. Our job is to provide advice, not give directions.

Never ever say or imply to a client: “I told you so”

We never want a client to feel as though they made a bad decision, particularly if that decision ran counter to what our preferred advice would be. Nothing is more condescending than having some lawyer say “I told you so.” These words should never come out of our mouths, and they should never be implied.

Humility: we are advice-providers, not decision makers.

Our job is to serve the client, not dictate to the client. We aim to further their goals, not our goals. The benefit of a general counsel fee structure is that our advice is separated from the hourly bill. We don’t make more profit by giving more advice or imposing our view on somebody else. We must work to empower small business owners to make their own decisions. We should remind them that their role is to make the decisions. Our role is to provide advice. We should collaborate with them from our position as advisors. When a client tells us about a goal, plan, or mission, we should make it part of our effort to help them make good decisions.

Have any feedback for us? Are we missing anything? We want to know! Contact us today.