I am our firm’s first point of contact–that is, I get the emails from potential new clients who are seeking help for their issues. I like this part of my job and try to make the experience as painless as possible for the potential client. We have some forms that we need filled out to review matters and there are other hoops, but I hope I am professional (but not formal) and courteous and not intimidating.
Did I mention professional? Yeah, about that… you do know that you’re a professional too and that you should act like one, no? In all of your interactions with others in business you should be courteous and respectful. Maybe it’s because we all text now, this isn’t happening as much.
In the case of first contacts, often the emails I get are like this:
I found my work on _____.com. What can I do?
“Hi” is not the proper greeting in any correspondence with a stranger. Yes, the interwebs make things less formal, but it is always better to err on the side of politeness than to accidentally insult someone. So, if you don’t know the person, don’t use “hi” use “Dear _____.” Also, it is best not to use the first name of someone you have never met, so it should be (assuming you are emailing me) “Dear Ms. Burns,” (even though I will immediately tell you to call me “Leslie”).
Second, your email should include something more than just a demand for an answer. When you are approaching someone you do not know, for any reason, it is good to say something about how you made the connection. For example, if you are contacting a potential client, maybe say “I saw your ______ ads–great work! I thought we might be a good fit.” Or, for your (potential) lawyer, “Betty Martin told me about you,” or, “I came across your firm’s site when searching for attorneys who know copyright law.” Adding some bit of information like that personalizes you and makes the human connection.
Timing is also important. You may work late hours or over the weekends, but don’t assume everyone else does. Also, don’t nag. Recently, someone emailed me to ask for possible assistance in a matter. 4 times. On a Saturday. It wasn’t an urgent matter (in fact, it wasn’t a good case overall–remember folks, register your work!) so 4 emails about the same thing only made this person look like he would be a pain-in-the-butt client. You know how you don’t want to work for jerk clients? No one does so don’t make your self look like (or, of course, actually be) one.
Relatedly, being professional means also being gracious when you get bad news. For example, you may think you are bringing your lawyer a million dollar infringement case but if the lawyer tells you that the case doesn’t hold up after her review, don’t take it out on the lawyer. If you disagree, seek a second opinion from someone else, sure, but don’t try to tell the first lawyer how she is wrong about the law and that she is blowing it. A lawyer is going to want your case to be what you think it is–high value and win-able–so having to tell you “no” sucks. It’s not something we do lightly and it isn’t personal. Taking it poorly doesn’t do you any good and it won’t change the lawyer’s opinion of the viability of your case.
Another example, further down the relationship line: when the opposition presents objective evidence that guts the value of the case, a lawyer will inform her client and give options for what to do, ethically, now that this information is known. This happens sometimes and once when it did the client yelled at me, saying that I obviously wasn’t interested in helping (and worse). None of us likes this kind of situation and, especially if you know about the negative info but don’t share it with your lawyer beforehand, but when it happens, the best thing to do is not to try and convince your lawyer to violate ethical rules (contrary to popular belief, most lawyers won’t do that even for ready money) but rather accept the reality of the situation, take the hit, and move on.
Overall, elevate your tone and your attitude and you’ll find that you’ll get more out of all your interactions. That’s being a professional.